In remote Western Mongolia, there is a sprinkling of brilliant white snow on the mountains and as we come over a slight rise, a few small gers come into view. Allen is looking for some directions.
Driving slowly towards the family camp, two women, one elder, an older man and a small girl emerge from one of the round, white canvas dwelling.
I take a small, blue knitted cardigan out of the kiddies clothes bag, jump out of the Fergon (Russian 4X4) and walk over to the younger women. I hand it to her, as it is a gift for the small dark haired child.
The two women look at it, have a lengthy discussion and then try to communicate with me. I try to explain with a series of role plays that it is a gift for the girl, which I’m usually pretty good at, but they don’t seem to understand. Allen has begun interacting with the man over the spread out map.
I watch the women get some water out of a container, pour it into a shallow, plastic wash basin put some liquid detergent in it and set about giving the little cardigan a thorough washing. Hmm? I am wondering if they think it’s dirty or what?
After they have submerged the cardigan many times and both women have inspected it closely, they rinse it, squeeze all the water out and hand it back to me.
It’s then that I realise that they think, I was asking them to wash it for me.
I take it, then hand it back and point to the girl one more time. Suddenly it dawns on one of the women, that I am giving them the cardigan. She relates this to the older woman and within a few seconds, our confusion evolves into laughter. It’s hilarious and very heartwarming.
Another unique experience of misunderstandings in cross-cultural interactions and the fragile art of giving whilst traveling.
Climbing back into the vehicle, I wave to the women and the sweet little girl as the old man walks ahead of our Fergon. He is leading us to the track we were looking for, to continue our journey into the far reaches of Mongolia.
Join Rensina on one of her overland trips to Mongolia, among other places Read more here
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