As part of our stay in Mongolia, we spent 6 days/5 nights staying with Nomadic Families in Western Mongolia. We had no guide and no organized tour. We simply worked with a company that arranged it with the families, then we took an 8 hour local bus to a small western town where we were picked up by the first family. They spoke no English and our only means on communication, besides hand signals, was a short list of Mongolian phrases we had brought with us.
Needless to say, we had a great time. We stayed in their extra Gers and spent the days hiking, horseback riding and hanging out with the families. However, things slowed down at night. Wayyyy down. We read, we played cards, we talked, but things still started getting a little boring. We basically sat around and drank tea.
On our last day, we were hit by a rain storm so epic we couldn’t even leave the ger.
That’s when we discovered ankle bones. Yes, bones.
Each family has a large collection of sheep ankle bones which are cleaned and used in a variety of games. As it rained, the family taught as a few of the classic games that involved “rolling” the bones and making pairs based on how they land.
The next game was very similar to jacks and a third was a guessing game where you hid ankle bones in your hands and a partner guessed how many you had.
We played these games for a while and they were amusing, but soon we discovered other uses for the ankle bones which oddly provided hours of amusement.
Ankle Bone Art
Yes, ankle bone art. Bored, with around 100 ankle bones I started writing out my name. Then Shannon’s name. Then Tejal’s name. Then the names of the other girls in the group.
I used every bone they had, but I got all four names written out. Luckily two of us were named Elizabeth so I could be economical.
Next we discovered that using similar colored bones made prettier names.
Then, during a break in the rain, we went for a walk and discovered this frame lying around outside:
And the “art” just got even more complex.
We even started writing out the names of loved ones back home. Shannon wrote out the name of her boyfriend (and by Shannon, I mean I wrote it out at her request while she supervised as the she was just hardly surviving at deaths door.) We threw in some of his socks that he had lent her for an extra special touch.
We later realized that perhaps sending someone a picture of their name written out in dead animal bone might seem vaguely threatening rather than a touching gesture as we had intended.
[Also, David, if you are reading this - I wore those socks for four days before I put them in the picture. Shannon was nice enough to lend them to me after I soaked mine. Thanks! ]
This is a really complicated game that involves hiding ankle bones so that other people will find them.
Then you get to victoriously yell “you’ve been ankle boned!”
Yeah, I don’t know how we found this enertaining.
It started when I tripped and spilled all 100 ankle bones in the ger. Apparently some of them ended up in Estel’s shoe, a fact she discovered the next morning when she tried to put her foot it.
“omg! There is something in my shoe.”
Laughter all around when we realized the culprit. The very next day, Tielo put more bones in her shoes and the game began.
From then on out, anything was fair game. Tea cups, sleeping bags, pockets. Anything you could ankle bone we did.
Shannon even managed to ankle bone me as we watched the sunrise on the great wall.
(Side note, when playing the game of “ankle boning” it’s important to use the full name. You don’t want to say, for example, “I got boned yesterday on the great wall!” Trust me, you get some odd looks on that one.)