I spread the three cards out on my table for Dawkhraa’s brother to see. Two jokers and the ace of clubs. Half amused in being defeated a third time he gave me a smirk. “If you win again I will give you something,” he exclaimed patting his jacket pocket. With new incentive, I dealt the cards again excited for the prospect of a reward and the fact that I found something I could actually beat Mongolians at. Ten minutes later, I once again placed down my last three cards signifying I had won the game.
He only chuckled to himself then let out a sigh, placing down the generous amount of cards he still held in his hand and reached into his pocket. He slapped the object on my table, covering it with his palm, almost to build suspense he held it concealed for several seconds before relinquishing his hand. There sat a bone, but not just any bone, a tooth, but not just any tooth, a canine, a fang, long white and curved that looked to be bigger then my middle finger. “Chono,”(Wolf) he murmured to me as I sat staring at the huge fang. “I killed it,” he added, miming firing a rifle.
He pointed towards the chain I wore around my neck which holds my St. Christopher medal. He gestured for me to put it on the chain, pointing towards the small hole he bored at the top of the fang. I took off my necklace to attach the tooth when he noticed St. Christopher. “Ter yu we? Jesus uu?”(What is that? Jesus?) he asked. With the help of my dictionary I explained that St. Christopher was not Jesus, but a saint who protected travelers. With my new charm hanging next to my medal, I turned the fang over in my hand feeling its new weight around my neck. “Will this protect me too?” I asked.
He let out a small laugh, “No, no, it will give you strength.” Knowing the shamanist ties still prevalent in Mongolia, animals such as horses, wolves, and eagles are held in high esteem. As I pondered this he added, “If you are strong, you do not need protection.”
Three days later: New Years Eve
It was a Saturday morning, I was looking forward to a lazy day of relaxing and doing minimal ger chores when Dawkhraa burst into my ger. “Justin!” he greeted me excitedly, “Lets go, we are going to the countryside.” When I asked why, he rambled in lighting fast Mongolian, able to only catch a couple words I tried piecing them together, “Chono”(wolf) and “khon” (sheep) and “buu” (gun). After asking him to repeat more slowly I got the whole story, a wolf had harassed a herders sheep in the night, now we must go hunt it. Now as excitable as Dawkhraa I grabbed for my winter jacket when he stopped me, “No” he said, “it will be cold, wear your deel.”
Putting on the traditional Mongolian garb, I grabbed my hat and gloves and then clamored into a Russian jeep with six other men, armed to the teeth with weapons that you’d have a lot of explaining to do if you were carrying them around in America. We drove out towards the Khentii mountains, Dawkhraa outlined the peaks with his finger as we drove along, explaining which ones we would check for the wolf at. The sheep herder sat in the front seat, his chatter not betraying the obvious anxiety he felt, “Whose cows are these?” he asked as we passed a herd. “No one is watching them.”