[The pages of this journal were found by a tourist near the border of Omnogobi (South Gobi) and Dundgobi (Middle Gobi) provinces in Mongolia. They appear to have been torn out of a standard composition notebook. The text is translated by Edgar Johnson, professor of Central Asian Studies at CUNY. -Ed.]
from Bulgan soum. One of them had a little boy, and brought a jar of buuz1 to give him. The father tried his best to make the buuz sound exciting. He took the top off of the jar and gave it a huge sniff and said “Delicious!” I don’t know how he did it. I could smell the buuz from where I was standing. The little boy ate one and then started picking at his mother’s tsoivan. The father was unhappy about buying another plate to serve his son, but Father did his trick of pretending to offer the plate for free; the man paid, as they always do.
Afterwards Father opened a bottle of vodka and shared it with the men. They toasted Batmönkh2, Sodnom, Mongolia and the Party until the bottle was dry and the men said it was time to go on. Akhaa3 whispered to me, “I wonder if they know which revolution they are toasting.” I told him to be quiet and began to wash dishes. I hoped they wouldn’t talk about it again, and they didn’t. When Father came back from seeing the travelers off he had Bankhar with him. He said that he thought a few animals might die tonight in the cold, and he didn’t want Bankhar to be one of them. It would be hard to find a good guard dog in wintertime. Then Father opened another bottle and he and Akhaa began to drink it. They talked about the cold and the animals and the travelers, and Akhaa told a story about Ulaanbaatar and Father told a story about Moscow, and they were still drinking and talking when Egchee and I went to sleep. Bankhar is sleeping next to my bed, as he always does.
3 February 1990
Without travelers coming there really isn’t much to do. The ger4 is unbelievably clean. I even took the slats out of the cabinet to clean in the grooves. Only five animals have died so far, and Father and Akhaa both agree that they were going to die regardless of the weather. I’m very proud of us for building the shelter last summer. The old one is crumbling, just as Akhaa said it would. At school there were fewer boys this week, as they were trying to save their animals. Father said that they should be punished for not thinking ahead, for damaging the Revolution; Akhaa joked that the dead animals clearly weren’t good proletarians. And so it always starts again. It’s been so much worse since the incidences in Ulaanbaatar began. If Akhaa was still in the City, would he be out there, too? I wonder if even he knows for sure.
Comrade Tuvshinbayar came to visit today. He is traveling the soum5 to talk to people and assure them that the disturbances in the City are under control. Even Akhaa knows better than to disrespect Tuvshinbayar. Father insisted that he stay for lunch, and Comrade said he would have stayed whether we invited him or not. Then he told a story about his son’s wife. “I took one bite of her buuz and bit something hard. I thought, ‘Did she leave a bone in here?’ Then I took it out. What was it? It was a nail! Now, her grandfather was at Khalkhyn Gol6, and her father worked under Tsedenbal7 and Batmönkh, so I know she’s a good Communist, not one of these troublemakers in the City. I know she wasn’t trying to kill me. But if she isn’t an assassin or a Western agent, what is she then? A bad cook! But I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, so do you know what I said? What could I say? I said, ‘I was looking for this nail!'”
We all laughed. He continued. “Do you know what the problem is? She is tall and thin. The best Mongolian women are short and fat. They work harder. But then, the women in your family are beautiful, and they can cook. We should send your tsoivan to the City, give those protesters a taste of what a true Revolutionary family can do for Mongolia.”
Tuvshinbayar asked Father about any travelers passing through, and Father said that we hadn’t seen very many, which is true. I think people are afraid. What is happening in the City? Is it like Berlin or Beijing, or something else? The rumors are hard to understand. Not that many rumors make it here. Unless the animals have a way of spreading them. After Tuvshinbayar was gone Akhaa said something disrespectful about him. I didn’t catch what it was but Father slapped him across the face. Mother had to jump in to separate them. Egchee pretended nothing was happening, like she always does. Akhaa left on his horse and said that he was going to check up on the animals, though it was already too dark to see much, and the animals were all in the shelter anyway. Father opened another bottle and drank it by himself.