This little man is by far my favorite! Mulder, as in Mulder and Scully from the X-Files but it’s pronounced Moolder.
He was the one who stole my heart. There wasn’t one thing in particular that he did to win me over. He wasn’t any cuter than the others. He didn’t do anything differently than the others. (except for smoke a cigarette, but that really shouldn’t win me over!!) Seriously, look at that face. How could you not love him? He had personality.
In 2011, my friends Claudia from Italy, Carmen from Spain and myself stayed with Mulder and his family in a ger (yurt) on the furthest Western part of Mongolia, bordering with Kazakhstan, Russia and China. Even to this day I have no idea where we were and how our driver made it there. The only thing I know is that we were within the Altai Tavan Bogd National Park about 3 hours drive west of the closest city Olgii. (We specifically went to that region to visit the Golden Eagle Festival which was 100% worth it!).
I remember driving up to the family’s ger through the rugged scenery, across the non existent roads, driving towards a stunning backdrop of white tipped alps. It was September and it was getting cold. The family (mum, dad, 16 year old son, 13 year old daughter and 2 year old Mulder) greeted us outside their home and welcomed us in for a warm cup of milk tea. Their ger was large with a wood burning stove in the middle that acted as a heater, oven and stove. There were 5 beds around the circumference with beautiful, handmade throws, pillows and decorations adorning them.
Our guide Nara talked to the family while we sat in silence observing our new surroundings and drank our tea. There were plaited intestines hanging from the roof to dry, a sheep’s head boiling in the large pot over the stove. I, of course looked the other way and went straight to Mulder. Like any child, you just need to play peek-a-boo, sing a song, or show them some technology and you’ve won them over. With Mulder it was the camera. He was enthralled with it. He’d watch me take photos of him, I’d show them to him and he would laugh and point at the photo. Within 5 minutes he was wanting to take the camera into his own little hands. His mother obviously didn’t want him breaking it and was telling him no, but I had a feeling he’d be able to handle it. So i handed over the camera and that was it. Boy did he have fun. Maybe he wasn’t going to be a pro, but he definitely wanted to give it a go. And that is how I won him over and we became friends.
The first thing I did once I’d won him over was to clean his face! It was filthy! His big red cheeks were cute but there was a layer of filth covering them. I couldn’t wait to wipe it all off. But how do you do it without offending the mother? I waited till she went outside of course. I took out a facial wipe from my backpack and wiped his face clean. He didn’t really know what I was doing the poor thing, but he didn’t object either. He let me wipe all the grime off and clean his hands too. Finally you could see the real Moolder. I brushed down his stringy hair so you could see his fancy bowl cut hair do. If it wasn’t so cold, I probably would have given him a shampoo too.
Nara was informed by the family that it would be impossible to camp in the National Park due to the snowfall. We would probably freeze to death. Only a few days ago some tourists were found dead from frost bite. That was enough to scare us! We said we’ d set up camp outside their gers but they wouldn’t have any of that. They offered us their own beds. Talk about hospitality. After a long discussion with Nara and us refusing to take their beds we found an alternative where everyone was happy. We would sleep in the ger but camped on the floor and we’ d let the family sleep in their beds.
This was the beginning of our 3 nights with the family. They were such a loving family. Everyone had their role and did it without any arguments. The father was a hunter and his flock of sheep were his family’s lifeline. His eldest son decided not to continue with school, instead following in his father’s footsteps as a hunter. Their teenage daughter also decided to give up school and become the full time lady of the house. She was like a second mum to Mulder, the cook, cleaner and embroiderer. Mum was the boss. There was something peaceful about watching them in their home all together. You could see their routine was in place and had been so for a long time. Having foreigners in their home was probably a ‘foreign’ concept but they took it in their stride, as did we and we all helped each other. Sitting around their dinner table (a coffee table) was humbling. Everyone eating the sheep with their hands from a big pot. There was no cutlery or etiquette but when one is hungry, one will eat. And eat we did.
This experience living with the Kazakh/Mongol family was eye opening. It made me realize how accommodating, generous and loving strangers can be. Even with the language barrier there was general respect and understanding. A simple smile or nod of the head or even the one word we could pronounce Баярлалаа (Bayarlalaa)…. thank you was enough.
I think of this family often. Thanks to Facebook I am in contact with our tour guide Nara and I regularly ask her how they are doing. As they are a nomadic family they are constantly moving. Their livestock is their lifeline and they follow their herd to green pastures for feeding. There is no letterbox where you can send them a postcard. There is no street name. They live in the middle of nowhere.
Mulder, the crazy little 2 year old who mimicked his dad continuously, including smoking his cigarette made me realize how much I love children and their innocence. How intelligent they are and how cooperative they can be with strangers. I hope we made a lasting impression on him and I wish him and his family a happy life.
If anyone happens to visit this family, please can you send me some updated photos. Our tour was arranged through the UB Guesthouse in Ulaanbaatar. http://www.ubguest.com/index.htm. Our tour guide was Nara and our driver was Togi. I highly recommend them both.