Letters to Jonathan- Day 1: Gers and Horse Milk

Note to the reader:

            The reason we chose to come help the children and medical professionals of Mongolia was because of a dear special boy named Jonathan Soud. His love for the country he never got to visit and the foundation his parents helped establish have enabled us to provide this much needed teaching. SYou can read more about Jonathan and his reason for picking Mongolia on the Why we are going page.

            I was one of the nurses who personally took care of Jonathan and his family while he was in the hospital. I got to spend countless evenings giving him his chemo and other medications, talking to him and his family about the soccer matches that were always on the TV in his room, and tiptoeing  in during the middle of the night to make sure everything was ok.

            During my time in Mongolia, I continuously envisioned seeing the country through Jonathan’s eyes. What would Jonathan think of this mountain? How would Jonathan like this van ride? Would Jonathan eat that? This “view the country through Jonathan’s eyes” technique was most evident during the second week of our trip when we got to leave the hospital and see some of the countryside. As I experienced everything this wonderful country had to offer, I chose to journal my experiences in a daily letter to Jonathan. Over the next few days I will share my letters to Jonathan on the blog so you can also experience some of Mongolia.

Dear Jonathan –

            Now that we are done training and teaching the hospital staff so they can better help the children of Mongolia we are going to spend a few days exploring the country that you fell in love with.


A panoramic view of the Mongolian countryside.

            We left our hotel early and met our tour guide Bazaraa and our driver Tsegi (pronounced Ziggy). We loaded up the Russian van, filled up spare gas containers, and headed east to the land of Chinggis Khaan (Americans know him as Genghis Khan, but you and I know better). As we drive along the smooth paved road by the rolling green mountains of grass and stare at the beautiful blue sky with the occasional giant puffy cloud I can’t help but think about how much you would have loved seeing this beautiful and peaceful place.    Then all the sudden the paved road ends and we are bouncing around like rag dolls inside a tin can. Saying that the unpaved roads of Mongolia are “rough” is an understatement. They are more like a poorly constructed carnival rollercoaster with every other screw missing and no safety harness.


The 2013 Mongolia Bound Team and our Russian Van

            We stopped at a roadside attraction to hold an eagle or a vulture. You would have laughed until you fell on the ground when you saw the vulture bite me so hard that he left a bruise on my arm.


Hanging out with a vulture.

            Our next stop was to a Mongolian homestead where the traditional nomadic family opened their home to us. Theirs was the traditional ger, a round tent with a wood stove in the middle.  The family showed us how they milked their mares (female horse) every 2 hours to keep their milk production up. Who knew you could milk a horse? They mix the mare’s milk with yeast, thousands of stirs, and months of time to ferment. The fermented mare’s milk is called airag. Being the kind hosts they were they gave us each a cup of airag as well as some cheese curds (also made from horse milk.) Trust me: it doesn’t taste any better than it sounds. I could just picture the disguised look on your face as you tasted the bitter alcoholic beverage. Then again you have a special love for Mongolia so you might have been one of the few non-Mongolians that like airag.

            Then several more hours in the tin can van of eternal bounciness and after driving through several rivers we got to a Buddhist monastery. The history behind it is amazing and you would have enjoyed every moment of the head Lama’s description, including the part where we had to climb a mountain. That’s where your running skills would have come in handy.

            After two more hours in the van we got to our base camp for the night. They have little two-story log cabins that all five of us could sleep. A quick dinner of mutton dumplings at the community hall was just enough to top us off.

What's for dinner? Mutton!

What’s for dinner? Mutton!

            The funniest part of the day was at bedtime. In the pitch black of night we fumbled through brushing our teeth in the dark. I won’t name any names, but in the dark one of the doctors accidentally used a tube of Neosporin instead of toothpaste. He did admit that Neosporin tastes better than the airag. I’m excited about all the awesome things we have planned for tomorrow.


Leave a comment


  1. Terry Humphrey

     /  September 17, 2013

    Thank you to this awesome team for sharing your journey. I can’t help but tear- up as my heart so wishes that Johnathan could have been one of the team members sharing his story of each trip. His memory resides in the stories you share as his spirits lives forever. 🙏

  2. Judy Lothman

     /  September 17, 2013

    On the eve of the third anniversary of Jonathan’s passing, I continue to miss that bright smile of his. I pictured that smile as I read your letter to him. Although my heart still aches that he is no longer with us, he comes alive through shared memories. Thank you for sharing yours.


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