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Life on the Steppe for the Last Thousand Years

October 7, 2010

Lots of you have been asking for a quick glance inside my dwelling. I’ve included a few pictures of my ger in this post.

In brief, it’s cozy: a circular felt tent about 10 feet in diameter. Gers are measured by the number of “walls” they have. I live in a 4 wall ger, which means that mine has four sections of the criss-crossed wooden lattice frame that you see as the inner wall in these pictures. It sort of looks like a garden fence you might see in the US, with leather string tying together all of the pieces. The floor is wood that’s been covered with linoleum. The rest of the materials are exclusively wood, and the canvas and felt covering. The interior is painted a cheery orange, an important color in the blend of Buddhism and Shamanism that makes up religion out here in Mongolia. These pictures were taken before my stove was installed, but imagine, if you will, a small iron stove sitting directly in the center of the ger–right between the two central support poles. The blue scarf hanging from the roof poles is called a khadag and was given to me by my host family back in June. It’s a traditional gift of welcoming–it is presented to the receiver, and held horizontally across your outstretched hands, as if you were about to hug the person giving it to you. It’s usually accompanied with a small bowl of tsuteytsey (milk tea). The whole practice is symbolic of welcoming strangers into Mongolia’s “eternal blue sky.” Quite a lovely tradition, don’t you think?

Lots of my weekends are spent keeping things clean. Keeping the desert from taking over is a once a day task of sweeping out dust and sand. I can see why ancient Silk Road sites in Mongolia and northern China have disappeared completely in Gobi dunes. There’s no running water anywhere in my town, so once a week I put my blue plastic water container (about 20 gallons or so) on a little cart and run down the road to the nearest well to fill up.

For bathing and laundry I use a big plastic tub called a tumpun. I’m usually a fan of warming up the water in my hot-pot before doing either, but most Mongolians don’t even bother. That well water is a little chilly for me though, and come winter time, it’s going to be WAY too cold for that.

My bed has become a bit more comfortable in the last few weeks because of a camping mat that Mom and Dad sent me, but it’s a metal frame bed with a kind of chainmail hammock that makes up the support system. I’ve modified that a bit with some 2 x 4 planks of wood so that I don’t end up folded like a banana when I lie down. I’ve even got a TV, which I only watch occasionally since I really can’t understand the speed with which they speak Mongolian on anything but the simplest programs–kids cartoons on Saturday mornings are usually pretty nice for that.

I’ve been taking measurements of all the pieces of the ger with the fantasy of someday returning to the US and going to a lumber mill and asking for all the elements to make my own in the backyard. Sounds pretty reasonable right?

Hope all of you are well.

All my best,

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Molly permalink
    October 7, 2010 11:50 am

    Thanks for posting these, Rob. I’ve been meaning to about any religious practices you’ve encountered, or I guess more specifically whether it is Theravada or Mahayana Buddhism. One of my favorite pieces at work is this incredible Guanyin (bodhisattva of compassion) from the Sui dynasty. Anyway, judging from that beautiful orange I’d say Tibetan (so maybe, possibly, I am guessing Mahayana)? Have you seen any mandalas? They are beautiful, geometric diagrams used to aid prayer and map the universe. They can be woven, painted, or even made of sand.

    As for constructing your own ger back stateside… I don’t know, sir, I’ve seen you put up a tent. I kid, I kid–that actually sounds like an excellent plan.

    Stay warm and stay safe!
    -Molly

  2. Margaret permalink
    October 7, 2010 6:12 pm

    How pleasant it looks! (But yes, the bed does look a little hard.)

    Do you have a mailing address? You may not have TV for entertainment, but we can, of course, send along books.

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