in my last post we had just arrived at the ‘GER” the Mongolian name for their circular felt-insulated, collapsible homes.
Rach had found this place through the ‘Couch-surfing’ web-site. The original intention was that this would be a time when the kids could experience real winter conditions with heaps of snow and frigid temperatures. The kids were really looking forward to snow, but alas, it was not to be. Frigid temperatures yes. Iced-over river, yes. But snow? Only on the distant mountains. Never the less, this was to be one of the most unforgettable experiences of our lives.
As we made our way across the rocky section we noticed a quaint little shed in one corner. Gardening shed? No this is the toilet chaps, equipped with the very best traditional 2-plank squat facility. (a great incentive for learning the art of ‘hanging on’ in the middle of a minus 10C night!)
When we reached the Ger we wondered how we were going to get in. Rob was about twice the size of the door opening!
However our smiling hostess with limited English beckoned us in, and we struggled into the relative gloom on the inside. Now outside we have had clear blue skies since I can’t remember when, with the sun always dazzling our vision. And the air temperature has been hovering around 3 – 10 C. Suddenly we were pitched into the relative gloom of a windowless Ger with a room temperature around 28 C.
Let me take a moment to describe a Ger. It is circular, approximately 6-7m in diameter. The wall height is about 1.5 M and the centre is supported on two poles about 1 m apart, which are about 2.5 M high. The two centre poles support a timber ring (about 1.5 M diameter.) This ring is toothed like a giant cog-wheel and into the gaps in the teeth are slotted supporting poles that angle out to the outer wall.
The outer wall is made of a continuous trellis –like lattice. Wrapped around the lattice, and over the roof poles, is laid a heavy layer (or more likely several layers) of felt. Holding the felt in place is a heavy cotton ‘sleeve – the size of the Ger. Holding the sleeve in place are several wide straps like a couple of belts around a rotund father christmas. Inside, the floor consists of timber layed on the ground (which has been levelled ) and then covered with felt and finally some more timber sheeting. In the centre of the Ger, between those two poles is a coal-burning range, the flue of which sticks up through the roof. The walls are hung with curtain-like material. And this is where everyone lives together for the Winter months. t it can be blowing a gale, and 20 C below, inside it is a quiet, cosy 25 C or more!
But there was so much about living in this place that gave pause for thought. I have talked before about contrasts, but these two days were just staggering. Consider: our host has a degree in Computer Science, and works in the IT section of the City Library. This is a man who is passionate about the Environment; about progress for his people, about the value of families, Education and so on. A man who has a passion for lifting the level, not just of his family, but his Country! And this is no idle dreamer: he has his feet on the ground and he is doing something about his passion. He is heavily involved in producing a newspaper designed to provoke awareness, the need for change, respect for the values of earlier generations, the need to care for the environment, how to budget, how to live sustainably. Oh his ideas and words just flow!
And what are the circumstances of this modest but passionate man? He lives in a Ger. No piped water to the house. Where does the water come from? He buys it from the water-station at the bottom of the hill. Then he drags the barrel of water uphill on a trolly, with his wife pushing from behind, just about every day. Try that when it is 40 below and everything is iced up, as it is in mid winter. Power is trailed from somewhere on a thin cable and lights 2 bulbs hanging from the roof. But note – one of the bulbs is a power-saving mercury vapour bulb. He is checking to see if it is all that it is said to be. And I have told you about the toilet facilities. Next year he plans to dig a 2-person facility for more convenience for his . No shower, no bath not even a wash hand basin. Just a tap in one corner, a small tank above filled by hand and ladle. Get rid of waste water? carry it in a big basin down to the cess-pit next to the dunny. Or if the weather is bad, scuttle a few feet from the door and chuck it into a convenient gully. On a fine sunny day, the cow dung is drying nicely.
The wife has collected it from their two cows (oh, didnt I tell you about the two cows they hace in a shed a couple of metres from the door?)
Today she can go over her collection carefully, seeing which are dry enough to use on the fire to supplemnt the coal. Does she see this as degrading? No – it’s a very practical example of sustainable living. In this house (Ger) nothing is wasted. All the vegetable peelings, leftovers from meals etc are fed to the cows, to supplement the fodder they have too buy during the winter months. Which reminds me – in the summer they take their cows up the the hills behind them, to graze on the lush grass.
We went for a walk up there the other day. Right now at the end of winter, the hillsides are literally bare rock and gravel. But we were assured that in a moths time the hills will be covered in green and there will be lots of grass for the cattle and for making hay. It appeasers that any one can take their cattle to graze there. Of course you cannot leave them unattended because they will be stolen.
So this is the life for this young couple and their four bright, intelligent kids. The Library computer technician has been overseas 4 times. He has seen how life is lived in the West. Is he envious or despondent about his lot? Not in the least! He is convinced that things will improve, and he is going to be part of the process. He believes that Mongolia has much to teach the West, and he is confident that the day will come
He also has a sense of humour! He confessed that he accepted Rachael’s requst to stay because ‘he wanted to see how manny could be squeezed into his GEr! There wre 6 of them and 11 of us – that made 17 of us laid out like sardines in a tin when we ‘went to bed’ Bed by the way, was your sleeping bag on thee floor.
His wife, by the way, had studied dress design and cooking at Tech college. How did she feel about grubbing around in sloppy sweater and gumboots, sorting the cow-dung? I had occasion to ask her if she was happy and she she replied with a quiet smile on her face, that she loved looking after her family. End of story.