Thanksgiving and Frostbitten Toes / by Bree von Bradsky

The other day I attended a talk at the American center given by my friend Ryan on Thanksgiving. He shared with those who were there, almost exclusively Mongolians, the contested history of Thanksgiving; supplying them with information regarding the history of the holiday and the traditions both good (family/ friends/ giving thanks) and bad (overconsumption/ capitalism- black Friday/ betrayal of NA). Leaving room for questions at the end, one person asked what the American Dream was, which led me to ponder what the American Dream meant to me. We have all heard about the land of equal opportunity and the Horatio Alger, rags to riches story. And well, perhaps the dream is still alive for those who fit the mold, or choose to work in certain professions, but I feel at least generationally, the dream has changed, or, is no longer my only option.  Like I said in my ‘about me’ section, life is not linear and for now, I’m happy to say my path has taken me on a journey that counteracts the need for stability. I hope to continue chasing new horizons for as long as I can.

So here I am, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, celebrating Thanksgiving by cooking a chicken in a toaster oven. Life is a bit different over here in sub zero temperatures, which consequentially has limited my exploration of this beautiful country. Because walking outside for too long is not high on my list, to get around the city I constantly take busses and ‘cabs’. The cabs here are what we, in America, would consider hitchhiking. The process is as follows: walk to a place where a car can easily pull over, stick out your arm directly in front of your body slightly angled down with your palm faced towards the ground, look away from on coming traffic so no one knows you’re a foreigner, and wait for anyone to pull over. Once someone stops- hop in their car and hope for the best. Luckily I have friends here in Mongolia who speak enough of the language to get us from point A to point B. Another special aspect of these cabs is fixed price: 1 km = 1,000 tögrög (MNT). With the conversion rate of 1 USD to 2,400 MNT, the constant use of ‘cabs’ is very affordable- especially when splitting the cost.

 

Two weekends ago I was able to escape the city, seeking solace in the Mongolian countryside while horseback riding.  What was originally supposed to be a two day trek with many others, turned into a one day, two and a half hour horseback ride with only four of us in weather as low as -30 degrees Fahrenheit. By hour two I could no longer feel my toes due to frostbite, and decided it was time we made our way back to the ger camp. At one point Gaby, a Swiss dentist who helps run the horseback riding trips, rode towards me, immediately asking me if I was OK and I responded with a quiet “yes” accompanied by a smile (I was NOT ok). She replied: “You have frost on your face!” so I answered by informing her that she too had frost on her face. It was time to go home.  Ending our ride around 5:30 pm we were able to soak in the final hours of sunlight, watching the orange glow that consumed the sky radiate from the large orb of the sun setting as we crested the top of our final hill before descent to the ger camp.  That evening the three of us slept in a ger, warmed by coal and condensed wood, accompanied by our two pups, Tsagaan Sawar and Agari.  During the night I never got cold, but by morning my toes had not fully recovered; I lost feeling in the tips of my toes on my right foot, and have still yet to regain full sensation two weeks later. Because of this slight hiccup, I made the decision to stay at the ger camp to film the following day while Ryan and Gaby, decided to brave another ride: They only lasted an hour.

We went horseback riding the following weekend in much forgiving weather, a balmy 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Many others joined us on this excursion, including our friends Sondra and Dustin, and four German women. For this ride we went up a different hill, gaining a new vantage point of the pristine, and practically untouched, land that surrounded us. With the ground covered in snow, our guide was hesitant to let us gallop until he deemed the land suitable. This happened towards the end of our ride, but the wait was worth it. Galloping towards the ger camp, I was ecstatic to have experienced riding in the Mongolian countryside for another time.

Oh.. I almost forgot- we saw two camels on this ride. I’m afraid I do not have any photos, for our guide was nervous and wanted to get us away from the large animals creeping up on us. This was due to the fact his horses had never seen a camel before and was unsure of how they’d react. Thus, we quickly crossed to the other side of the river leaving the camels a spectacle to view from afar.