News

21
Jul

WEEK 8 – DIY

WEEK 8 – DIY

At the end of last week I felt I was starting to communicate well with the man teaching me to build the ger door. Unfortunately, the first thing he told me on Monday morning was that he had a cold and would not be at the workshop that week. This close to the end, and looking forward to living in this ger this summer, I decided to take matters into my own hands. That meant I was going to start working on my own and I would have to accept a few mistakes. At the same time, I was confident that all the essential structural components were in check and ultimately the safety of the ger would not be compromised. So I worked the way they’ve been showing me for the last 2 months keeping the mistakes as minor as possible. The good thing about building without a coach is that you can let your imagination run wild and try new ideas without anyone to limit you. The bad thing about working alone is that nobody is there to remind you that some ideas are better kept in your imagination! Without too many questionable decisions, I completed the door and the painting could begin.

Notice the goggles...

Notice the goggles…

I started painting and it was a complete change of vibe, I entered a world ruled by women. Not only do they paint but they also take turns to do the cooking. If a woman is cooking for the whole team one day, it doesn’t mean she won’t paint, she will do her part at the end of the day. Their work ethics are very impressive but the most amazing part has to be their positive attitude through it all. An older woman will spend a good chunk of her day singing or humming traditional Mongolian songs. A younger woman on the other hand blasts Mongolian hip hop and pop songs from her cell phone. Either way making a nice change from the loud drills and saws from the previous work stations. There seems to exist a strong, almost sacred, connection here between the people and their music, maybe that’s their trick to keeping their smile. I have not yet learned to sing the way they do but I am still just applying the base coat so there is time!

Making sure the paint has time to get nice and dry

Za

21
Jul

WEEK 9 – KIND OF BLUE

Sain baina uu!

Since I’ve started building my ger, I’ve had the opportunity to get the opinion of many Mongolian passersby and the painting has been no exception to the rule. The typical comment about the dark blue color is a polite ”it’s unusual” but the facial expression gives away their disdain instantly. Other people are more to the point about how they feel : ”that colour is bad” and the disarmed ”but why?”. Receiving these remarks was a bit of a surprise at first until my colleague explained the reason behind the unease with the colour. The skylight of the ger represents the sun, and the uhns (roof rafters) represent the sunbeams, that is why Mongolian gers are orange.

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The boss of the painting department, helping me with the contours of the patterns on the baganas.

The painting work hours go until dark on most days and it seems as though it never ends, but in the warmth of the painting rooms and with regular lengthy breaks every couple of hours for tea and a bite it get’s quite liveable. At the end of a cold and snowy day nearing the end of the week, I was leaving the workshop as it was getting dark. My brain was in a mushy state from the days work and I was slow to notice that a car was vigorously honking it’s horn just a few meters away from me. I turned around to look at what might be exciting the driver and saw 40 horses facing the car. The horses just walked by the car, not responding to it’s cries for attention and even the herder barely grumbled a few negative sounding words at the Prius as he walked by, arms crossed behind his back unimpressed and unremitting. It made no sense that close to the city, as though I had imagined the whole thing. A moment later, they had gone, a dreamlike sight to remind me of where I was.

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Za

21
Jul

WEEK 10 – YOU BUSTIN’ MY BALLS?

Sain baina uu!

The tenth week was off to to a superbly efficient start, the women from the team and I finished the complex painting designs of the Toono (skylight) of my almost complete ger. Patience is everything in such a meticulous task. It was done in just a couple of days and afterwards, I was invited by the head of the ger business (and head of the family) to go to the countryside. They didn’t give me much information about what we were going to do other than taking care of the animals. A week before, they had spoken about combing the goats, I was definitely up for a relaxing session with the little guys in the middle of the Steppe!

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The next day, the ger boss, his wife, his son and grandson and I were meeting at 5 AM to hit the countryside bright and early. Punctuality in the morning has always been a challenge for me, so I felt bad about showing up 15 minutes late at the rendez vous point, but when they arrived at 8:30 AM, they let it slip. Off we were for 400 km towards their hometown Hujirt. The first stop was a bit before our destination, where some of the family herd sheep, cows, goats and horses.

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I have a habit of picking up expressions from films I really like, why not right? Years ago, Goodfellas opened my eyes to a bunch of them, and in particular ”Hey! Quit bustin’ my balls enh”. After that, when my father told me to go clean my room, he could guess my answer. Basically, I’ve been saying those words for years and never thought much of them. Upon the car arriving to the charming ger magically niched in hills and small rocky mountains, I got a glimpse of a horse on the ground with ropes tied to his legs. At that instant, the whole family became ecstatic and jumped out of the car to get closer. Then I saw, the horse was having his family jewels removed and through the noise he was making, I could swear I heard Joe Pesci’s voice in laments. Of course the process makes sense, it allows the herders to make the males more docile amongst other things. Still, it’s a gruesome task and it gave me a totally different perspective on my beloved quote, that will forever be vividly imaged in my mind!

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The (only) ger is in the dark spot in the middle of the picture!

After a stroll in the hills to change my thoughts, I came back to the ger. The meat balls, so to speak, had been cooking for a while in the stove and were ready to be eaten, the moment the whole family had been anxiously waiting for. They explained that this happens only once a year and that it’s quite an honour to be part of. What was it like you enthusiastically ask? Delicious! The taste was a little bit like caviar and the texture was almost identical to a Bratwurst.

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Goodness gracious

Za

21
Jul

WEEK 11 – IN THE WOODS

WEEK 11 – IN THE WOODS

Sain baina uu!

With a lot left to do to complete my ger and be ready to live in it this week, the progress happened at a disappointingly slow pace. ”Margash” (meaning tomorrow) is an answer that tends to come up often and has been seriously impeding any momentum we’ve been able to build. Keeping in mind that even though I’m the client in this situation, I’m no one’s boss, I decided to attempt a new approach. Seeing how the team is particularly effective and all come together when a specific objective is defined, we’ll be working to complete the ger by the end of next week.

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You know that feeling when the goat doesn’t fit into the trunk no matter how hard you push so you have to cut the leg off?

Wood has a capital importance in Mongolia, it’s used for heating, for ger building, to build the fences that separate the properties and on top of that the country consists mainly of desert. When Groovyyurts realized this was an issue years ago we decided to take the initiative to offset our wood use by planting trees for each ger we sell. To do this, we teamed up with Radnaa Sanjaa, the governor of the Tunhel province. Radnaa and his wife, both forest engineers, have a proactive approach to planting trees, not only are they strategically planting 2-3 year larch and pine trees, they also plant in the outskirts of the forest. This gives the trees better odds of survival because there is less wind, more moisture and less animals grazing than in the open planes. Another reason why we teamed up with Radnaa and his team is their commitment to the trees they plant, the survival rate of their trees is about 75%, a very strong number considering the harsh conditions. For the first 2-3 years of the trees life, it is even brought inside during the winter so that it is already of a good size when it is planted on the edge of the forest.

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My fantastic colleague, Enee who is always an essential part in these adventures!

In the end, the number of the trees surviving plantation is close to threefold the number of trees used to make a yurt. To see where it all happens, I traded the pigeons of the city for the falcons of Tunhell for the weekend. The little city located in a valley 200 km North of Ulaanbaatar along the railway was still greening and the soil still thawing. We visited the tree plantations and I will be back when the planting begins to participate. For the moment, they showed us the success of whats been done so far and we enjoyed walking through a massive amount of aromatic seasonal pink flowers!

This wee pine is 3 years old, the winters are so cold and the summers so short it takes a long time for trees to grow!

Za

20
Jul

WEEKS 12 & 13 – A BIG FAMILY

Sain Baina uu?

I wanted my next post to be written from my ger. The consequences involved a crazy week, struggling between concessions to make things go forward and the quality concerns attached to my objectives here (amongst which quality control has an important role). At the end of the 12th week, the ger was successfully complete with a great view of the capital, not bad!

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Building the ger, I had the chance to make a few changes, so I thought of replacing a part of the painting on the uhns (roof rafters) with the names of the people who helped me to build in old Mongolian writing. They mentioned that they liked the idea early on, but it was during the installation that it was positively heartwarming as they got together and started classifying the uhns per family, keeping the couples together as well as their children and grandchildren. Reminding me once more how much of a family business this.

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After the installation was complete, they invited me to an impromptue ger camping outing on the countryside for a day for Childrens Day. So we loaded a ger and hit the road to set it up wherever we pleased, except not too far from the ”Mother Rock”, where we were going to pray the next day. The Buddhist ceremony held in all solemnity, involving rice and milk offerings.

Late into the second day I was pondering that being gone for a day might be just an expression when Deggy gave me a funny look from the other side of a car. The kind of look that they give me every time they are hiding something. When I got closer, I saw a tied up goat and a big barbecue kettle next to it (Mongolian barbecue involves placing red hot rocks in a big kettle with a little bit of water and meat), so I did the math – this was supper. It was my first time skinning a goat, a still warm animal not yet converted to meat. However uncomfortable the experience was, the result was the best food I’ve eaten yet in Mongolia, yes, even better than the balls.

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A nice campfire to warm us during the preparation.

Za

20
Jul

WEEK 18 – THE LIGHT AT THE END OF THE…

Sain baina uu!

The ramp up to Naadam has not slowed down one bit. Feeling that the vacation time and the awaited festivities were at the door, it seemed difficult for everyone to contain their joy. But before anyone signed off, we needed to load the Europe bound truck. One day before loading, the gers were ready and the improvements they had proposed at the previous shipment had been applied! A huge improvement adding to all the excitement.

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Feeling blessed in the ger district!

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Though the loading felt never-ending during the humid 36 degrees day, the typical Mongolian toughness kept the team going through to the wee hours of the night. One of the most amazing characteristics of Mongolians is their capacity to keep their cool, not once did someone get angry, disregarding the occasional grunt or friendly wrestling match of course. The only one in the team who slipped was yours truly! A modification that needed to be done had been left to the last minute and slowed us down but the team kept telling me we needed to hurry. In a fast spoken French, I let  out the steam and after a solemn 20 seconds of respect for my frustration, they were smiling again, then we chuckled and together solved the issue. A few of the guys now how to use Québecois swear words!

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After everything was loaded, we offered a Khatag (buddhist blue scarf) to the Belorussian driver, Vadim, for his truck with some tea and cheese. Everyone was relieved that we had finished, perhaps most of all the customs agent who had been pressing us to hurry the whole time. Though it was late, the guys hadn’t lost their never dying playful spirit!


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And the truck is off to the other end of the continent!

Za