Saturday, February 13, 2010

Mongol hell

Ever been cold? I mean really cold. For example, my first winter living in West Yellowstone, Mont., there was a cold snap when temperatures were well-below zero for 10 days straight. Despite clear, sunny skies with no wind, daytime highs were -20 F. That’s right, the high temperature was 20 below zero on a sunny day. At night, the coldest it got was -58 F. It was so cold that any exposed skin would be frozen within seconds by a wind chill factor created merely by walking; there was no wind during this cold snap.

Ever been that cold? If you have, you still haven’t experienced what is happening now in Mongolia. This remote and seldom-heard about country is in the midst of something called a dzud. I first learned of this word from the blogger at Bitterroot Badger’s Bozeman Buddhist Blog. The Badger takes the situation over in Mongolia seriously because he’s spent time there and has personal connections with the country and its people. A dzud is a winter so cold and snowy that vast numbers of herd animals – the staple of rural Mongolian life – die of starvation because they cannot forage. The Mongols, according to the Badger, refer to the cold in terms of its effect on liquor: it gets so cold that twice-distilled vodka will freeze. This particular dzud is already being called the worst one in at least 30 years. More than 2 million animals have died.

Reports show that daily temperatures have been falling to as low as -40 C.

Many others have blogged about this as well, because raising awareness of this crisis in this remote and poor country is vital if aid is going to get there in time to help the rural population. With all eyes cast upon Haiti – as well they should be – it’s difficult to think about someplace as distant as Mongolia. It’s a country seldom heard about in the news.

Thankfully, the Badger has put together some links for relief organizations specifically focused on helping in Mongolia. Some of these organizations include CAMDA, the Cambridge Mongolia Development Appeal. The World Health Organization and the UN are also coordinating relief efforts.

There’s a sutta in the Mahavagga of the Vinaya that I think is relevant to this – the Kucchivikara-vatthu: The Monk with Dysentery. In this sutta, the Buddha encounters a monk sick with dysentery, who has fouled himself with excrement and urine. The Buddha asks the monk whether he has an attendant, to which the monk replies no. Why not, the Buddha asks? “I don't do anything for the monks, lord, which is why they don't attend to me.” After hearing that, the Buddha immediately set to assisting the ill monk, directing others to assist him. He then asks the other monks why they haven’t attended to this monk’s illness, and they reply similarly: this monk doesn’t do anything for the other monks.

“Monks, you have no mother, you have no father, who might tend to you. If you don’t tend to one another, who then will tend to you? Whoever would tend to me, should tend to the sick.”

Perhaps you think that the people of Mongolia don’t do anything for you? Perhaps you ought to reconsider this attitude.

No comments:

Post a Comment