Hello, you. I'm now in Olgii city of Bayan-Olgii ("Rich-Cradle") province after much ado. It is the western most province of Mongolia and 90% Muslim Kazakh. Mongolian is their second language, so that puts us in the same boat. Being here is like being in a new country all over again. The people are lovely, but very surprised to see me here and alone.
Olgii is a small town replete with concrete, nestled among the Altai mountains and sprawling along the luscious Hovd river. I've come to collect poems, meet poets and to see the tallest mountain in Mongolia, the Altai's Tavan Bogd (Five Holy). Yesterday I met with the main Kazakh poet, also the director of the Bayan-Olgii branch of the Union of Mongolian Writers, R. Suragan, that I had meant to meet with in Bayan-Olgii and we had a good talk. He told me I must see Tavan Bogd and write poems while I'm there. Thus I leave for the mountain tomorrow after lunch with warm clothes, food, a national park permit and a border permit as the mountain lies on the borders of Mongolia, Russia and China.
I also realized, though I should have known before, that all the poems the poets here write are in the Kazakh language, one that I don't know. While I go to Tavan Bogd, Suragan is going to collect the poems that have been translated into Mongolian so I can read them. Then, I may translate two or three of the poems into English for him. I don't know how that will work since I'm translating from Mongolian and not the original language but I will do it because I've heard he's a really great poet and I'm interested in what he's writing.
Actually, today I found an anthology with three of his poems in it at the province library where I had to 1) pay 100 togrog per book just to look at them, 2) leave the library while the librarians went out to lunch, and 3) wait outside the library for 45 minutes when the librarians returned late from lunch. Suragan knows Mongolian very well and I hope he'll be able to comment on the quality of the Kazakh-to-Mongolian translations.
It's fantastic how everyone here knows the name of their country's poets and how they hold them in such esteem. I was in the middle of nowhere in the countryside of Bayan-Olgii and said I was going to meet Suragan and all the people knew who he is. Once I mention that I too am a poet, they softly exhale, "Oh," and look at me a little differently.
Now for the "much ado" and "the middle of nowhere in the countryside" to which referred earlier. Well, I had a new experience in Mongolia on my way to Olgii from Hovd: a car accident. At about 10 PM on Monday night the Russian jeep (a "жаран ес" for those of you who know what that is) I was riding in with one young Kazakh driver went off the road and landed upside down in a dry river bed. Actually we were about halfway down into the river bed when the car first stopped. I opened my door to try to get out at the driver's suggestion and then we flipped over. My door was open so I scuttled out quickly.
We both walked away physically unscathed. I felt strangely calm; however, the driver was freaking out because he was a student, only 22 year old, and it was his parent's jeep. Let's just say I could relate to what he was going through from past experience.
It was dark so I suggested we set up my tent, try to sleep and go look for help in the morning light. I hardly slept, but at some point Boldoo, the driver, went off to find help before I woke up. Thus when I awoke he was gone and I went about packing up the camp, taking pictures of the accident scene (which I'll post when I get back to UB) and eating some breakfast. Boldoo returned on a motorcycle with another Kazakh man and said more were coming.
Eventually about 12 more Kazakh men came, righted the jeep with another jeep and got it started again. Since the jeep I originally left Hovd in was now a mess (no windshield, no passenger side door, etc.) I rode with some other folks to their camp and Boldoo arranged for a couple of them to take me on to Olgii so he could return to his parent's home in Hovd.
The Kazakh people were very, very nice, especially when they found out what had happened, and had me drink a lot of Kazakh tea, eat homemade cheese and bread and hold their eagle. (Kazakhs are eagle hunters and are very proud of their birds.) After stopping at many, many homes along the way and after many, many bowls of tea, two Kazakh men of my age, though seeming much older, eventually ferried me to Olgii and helped me find a place to stay when we discovered that all the hotels were full.