Hearing Birds Fly : A Year in a Mongolian Village Paperback
by Louisa Waugh
HEARING BIRDS FLY is Louisa Waugh's passionately written account of her time in a remote Mongolian village.
Frustrated by the increasingly bland character of the capital city of Ulan Bator, she yearned for the real Mongolia and got the chance when she was summoned by the village head to go to Tsengel far away in the west, near the Kazakh border.
Her story completely transports the reader to feel the glacial cold and to see the wonders of the Seven Kings as they steadily emerge from the horizon.
Through her we sense their trials as well as their joys, rivalries and even hostilities, many of which the author shared or knew about.
Her time in the village was marked by coming to terms with the harshness of climate and also by how she faced up to new feelings towards the treatment of animals, death, solitude and real loneliness, and the constant struggle to censor her reactions as an outsider.
Above all, Louisa Waugh involves us with the locals' lives in such a way that we come to know them and care for their fates.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 288 pages, colour illustrations
- Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
- Publication Date: 23/01/2003
- Category: Travel writing
- ISBN: 9780349115801
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Review by vernefan
---No Electronics Here!---British teacher Louisa Waugh one day decides she needs to break out of her mundane London life, and accepts an invitation to spend a year teaching the children of the outer Mongolian plains. Leaving her materialistic world of computers, Ipods, cell phones and espresso machines behind, Louisa eagerly anticipates a unique experience as she lands in Mongolia's capital city of Ulaanbaatar. She first spends a few months getting her feet wet and her body acclimatized in this city, making friends and learning the language before flying out to the steppe, the arid sparse desert-like terrain of the village of Tsengel. Arriving with just a few backpacks of personal items, Louisa is quickly & surprisingly welcomed into the family fold of some of the most generous, kind, and happy people that exist on this planet. This is the 4th book I've read about the warm and jovial Mongolian people, and it remains consistent through all that I've read about them, that they love all visitors to their land, and believe in sharing and caring for anyone that shows up knocking at their door. Minutes after her arrival she is welcomed with open arms by the town priest, and shown to her own ger, a nomadic canvas tent that might not look like much on the outside, but can be lavishly decorated with thick carpets, comfy furniture and a warm stove for heating and cooking on the inside. Unpacking her meager belongings of a few changes of clothes, cases of toilet paper, stacks of books and emergency medicine, Louisa falls in love with these smiling practical people who literally live day by day in survival mode with next to nothing to call their own, yet spend each night laughing, cooking, eating and drinking after their daily chores are done. Every act of daily life is spent working together, all efforts a joint teamwork experience. In some ways, while reading of Louisa's stay in Tsengel, the life style reminded me of the communal Amish experience. Life is harsh on the Mongolian plains, the men are hard working shepherds that prize their flocks of sheep, goats, camels and horses; their only means of survival for food, drink, and warm clothing. Louisa's stomach rebels on a diet of mutton, horsemeat, marmot and butter salted tea, and finds the weekly slaughter of animals a heart-wrenching affair that causes her much turmoil. Weather is severe, frigid winters have you up at dawn to crack the ice in your buckets to get water to drink, no running faucets here. Trench-style outhouses for bathrooms slick with ice can have you skating to the loo in the middle of the night to pee, and skinning marmot pelts and sheering sheep for cashmere and felt are back breaking jobs when it's below zero and one hasn't much food or sustenance to keep the body fat and warm. The luxury of electricity is absent, only a few community buildings are wired for it, and even then it is only turned on between 6 and 9PM in the winter hours. This is a land without luxury yet Louisa finds it appealing.Reading and teaching by candlelight and woodstove fires are the norm, as Louisa spends her year learning the gifts of love, friendship and family. She finds the joys of solitude and calmness amidst people that come to love her as their own. Birthing babies, burying the dead, battling bubonic plague, birthday celebrations & weddings rituals, weekend jaunts to the disco, and learning how to distill vodka are just some of the thrills of the Mongolian nomad life. Observing the sport of hunting with eagles while horseback riding in the mountains has Louisa enthralled with this precious country and wondering if she will ever be able to return to the hustle and bustle of London, when all she wants to do is sit on the Mongolian plain where it is so quiet you can hear the birds fly. This a sensational memoir of a courageous woman with the spirit of adventure as she learns how spoiled, greedy and closed minded most of the world is, and how she became a new woman with a whole new attitude on life after spending the best year of her life in another world on the other side of the globe.