Then, Jimmy and I went with Turbold and his family back to the same tiny town for a fantastic Naadam experience. His mom and dad were wonderful hosts, and made sure to help us experience all of the best things about this ancient Mongolian holiday. (In the photo, Turbold's mom, Baterdene is on the far left, his little brothers Onobold and Ganbold are next, then his dad, Tumersukh, then some of the extended family). The highlight was one of the horse races, where we got to ride in the car that follows the racers to the starting line, and then drive like maniacs across the open steppe as we follow alongside the horses racing back toward the finish. It was exhiliarating! And we beat the horses to the starting line with just enough time to lay out a carpet on the grass and polish off a bottle of vodka (among 8 of us), have a toast or two and eat some candies before the horses showed up. Never a wasted moment! (Notice in the photo that some of the riders [all kids] rode bareback, and many had no shoes. I swear some of these kids can ride a horse before they can walk!)
Throughout all of this fun and frivolity, Jimmy has been working like crazy on the Anna Home expansion project. With the help of financing and planning by a Dutch group, Anna Home is expanding. Prior to this summer, there were 2 small bedrooms, a small living room and kitchen for 25 kids. In a few months, there will be 3 large bedrooms, a woodworking shop and computer/sewing room, a bathroom with running water (there is no bathroom now, only an outhouse), new electrical and heating systems, and an expanded living room. While Jimmy did not initiate this project, he has put in hours and hours of time and effort into making it happen and monitoring/training the construction crew. The kids are, naturally, thrilled about the whole thing, and are helping with whatever aspects they are allowed to help with. During our last week in Cho, Boldsaikhan, the director and our friend, invited us to Anna Home for a farewell gathering. The kids and their teacher made us a delicious meal, sang us a special song, and gave us loads of homemade "thank you" cards. When we left, they all insisted on individual photos with each of us (that's about 50 photos!), then followed us out to the car, where they surrounded us, blowing kisses and reaching in to grab our hands one last time, and then chasing the car to the end of the street (one little boy holding my hand as he ran next to the car). It was so darned SWEET!!!
until our plane took off. We had two rounds of toasts, first with Jimmy's Ger Sanachilag counterparts, then with my teachers, did lots more hugging and crying, then went inside to board. The hugs continued until the security folks finally insisted that we come through security to the boarding area. I'll never forget all those beautiful faces, crammed together in the little entryway into the security room crying, my "sons" hugging and consoling each other as they said one, two, three final goodbyes.