The word “Timmay” in Mongolian sounds like of the English name Timmy. It means camel, and is one of my favourite words. I always imagine a young camel with a British accent whose name is Timmy. (Remembering words by association helps me learn, as well as offering an amusing creative outlet.)
Living in the city however, our encounters with camels are generally limited to the kind found only in tourist shops – stuffed and smaller than a bread loaf.
But now, we have proof of a living encounter!
Coming home from 2 nights away at a ger camp for a mid-term retreat we saw the hawk-man at the side of the road. The hawk-man has some pretty big hawks (or eagles or vultures, depending on the day I think) to pose with for a photo, but a pair of camels were at the side-road tourist stop today.
We said “Why not?” and pulled over.
It was sunny, but windy, which makes your ears cold. As we took our turns having our camels rides, one by one, and I stood near the waiting camel. I was curious about the camel, but also about the man who stood by the road for so many hours a day.
His weathered face of patience looked straight out of National Geographic. I wish I had a photo.
Standing on the edge of road and brown field, I made a decision. I wanted to talk to that man. But small talk is hard, and harder still when bridging a language, culture, and generation gap.
Curious as to how old camels live, I was too lazy to figure out how to ask that in Mongolian so I opted for the easier question.
“How old is your camel?” I asked the keeper.
“Gotchen-taow! Tir niq hoechin* timmay.” His gruff voice said.
35, he said. “He is one old camel”.
Wow. I agreed, raising impressed eyebrows and said “Teemo!”
Teemo means “Really!”
I gave the camel a pat. Steve asked what the camel’s name was and they didn’t have any. Adele and I called this one Jake.
I was trying to think of something else to say when the camel man surprised me. He spoke! To me!
The camel-man pointed to the soft muzzle of the camel. “Tollah-shiik,” he said so gently.
I smiled, interested. It was like a rabbit…extremely soft and sensitive.
He repeated it again to make sure I understood. “Ti, ti” I nodded.
He moved on to the big brown eye. “Mour-shiik.”
Horse-like. Yes, I could see the resemblance there too.
Then the ears.
He tugged the small round ears and said something that I missed. He said it again while I sorted through my brain but I couldn’t place it…
Oh, I always have trouble with mouse! Thankfully, he knew the English word.
The lesson continued. I was grinning as a waited eagerly for each new comparison.
The tail: “Gaha-shiik”, he said. Like a Pig.
Legs? “Nahaa.” Dog.
The shaggy hair atop his forehead? “Teyhhe-shiik.” Like a chicken’s comb!
He pinched a tuft of hair from the camel’s thick coat. “Muir-Shiik. Muir Nass-shiik.” Like a sheep. Sheep’s wool.
I told him I had a pair of camel socks and I liked them a lot. They’re the best.
My favourite came at the end, when the man taught me a new word. I had to practice several times to get the short word right. The L is pronounced softly, by putting the tip of your tongue behind your front top teeth and blowing air out the sides of your tongue and bottom teeth.
He waved his hand across the back of the camel, following the silhouette of the two pointy humps…
I was puzzled. It took a long time as I struggled to understand.
“Dragon!” he said, shy about his english.
I was delighted. “Jahkhan buk yum!” I exclaimed. Who knows if it actually translates but I tried:
“A little bit of everything!”
I was reminded of a conversation I had once in the middle of a bunch of trees and snow on an outdoor ed. camping trip, where the comment was made that there were only 2 things we needed to know in this life, 2 things that we were made for…
What does it all come down to?
To love God and to love others.
It took me a little while to figure out that it was pretty hard to love others if I couldn’t even talk to them. Did I ever mention that I associate strongly with introverts?? Oh yes. Especially back then.
Life Lesson #15: Learn to Talk to People!
But every once in a while, it’s really fun.
Like a little chit chat about camels and dragons with a camel guy beside some road in Mongolia. All in a foreign language.
Yeah. That’s really fun.
*Note to self or any better Mongolian speakers than I: Yes, the word he used for ‘old’ is the one generally used for Things, not People. I’ll have to ask my teacher where animals stand with that rule…