Archive for January, 2010

Three Dinners

Three days in a row I was invited out to dinner at friends’ homes and each one was completely different.  I thought you would enjoy hearing about them.

The day before New Year’s Eve, a friend and I were invited to Enkhtuvshen’s home for dinner.  Enkhtuvshen is a young woman in her

Grandmother, Enkhtuvshen, her little sister

early 20s who has a degree in geography and is trying to get her teaching certificate and job.  She lives in a wooden house along with her grandmother, sister, and aunt and uncle.  Her parents live in the countryside.  Their home is a compact comfortable 4-room house with an entry room, living room, kitchen, and bedroom.   As is often the case, we first looked at her photo album, a staple in every Mongolian home, filled with photos of family and friends lined up looking seriously at the camera in various locations.  There are class photos, photos taken at Sukhbator Square in UB, countryside photos with family members, maybe some wedding pictures, and of course family portraits at various stages of their lives.

Next, Enkhtuvshen cooked dinner for us—rice and chopped vegetables prepared in the big “togoo”, the primary cooking utensil in every home.  It’s like a giant cast-iron wok and fits down into the top of the stove.  Milk tea always precedes, accompanies and/or follows the meal.  After we’d eaten, Enkhtuvshen told us her grandmother was well known in her family as a singer.  And so she sang for us one of Mongolia’s “long songs” which are generally about Mongolia’s vast open spaces and praise the beauty of their native land and the family traditions of their daily lives.  I love to hear the Mongolian people sing.

The next dinner was a genuine “Shin Jil” (New Year’s Eve) party.  My main co-worker, Erga, at the Chamber of Commerce office invited me to her home for the celebration.  Her husband is involved in some kind of

Some of my co-worker's family on New Year's Eve

trade with China I think and they live in home with two TVs!  She and her children picked me up about 7:00 in a taxi since she lives far from my house.  If you don’t have a car, it’s the only way to get around.  Inside her home, three low tables were set end-to-end covered with all kinds of food: potato salads, sliced sausages with cucumbers, fruits, candies, vegetable salads, various kinds of drinks—very festive looking.  As the evening progressed, more and more relatives arrived and Erga in her limited English introduced each one, e.g. my older brother’s wife’s mother, my younger brother’s son, my mother’s sister’s husband, etc. etc. etc.  Needless to say, none of it stuck with me.  Everyone talked and laughed and ate—eventually buuz was brought in, then some khushur, and other types of meat.  While I didn’t talk a lot, I loved the camaraderie. At midnight we all went outside and saw the fireworks from the town square as well as every hosha in Muron.  Fireworks are not illegal here and everyone can buy these long tubes that you can light and send booms and bright lights high into the air.

After the fireworks, we all trooped back inside and opened bottles of champagne—Mongolians love to shake the bottle and make it spray all over everywhere.  Of course there was vodka making the rounds as well.  Everyone who can also always buys a frosted cake for the occasion—long on decoration but short on flavor.  Children  stay up as long as they want and after the fireworks, they were asked to perform songs and poetry, even a small dance.  They do so confidently and receive much applause.  Then, the adults begin to sing.  To me it is magical—they sang for a couple of hours, one Mongolian song after another, everyone knowing the melodies so different from those I’m familiar with and with many verses about nature and animals and families.  I could listen to them forever.

One interesting thing I noticed as the adults sat around the table singing:  I could look right into the kitchen area and I watch as Erga’s eight-year-old daughter circulated quietly picking up dishes from the table, taking them to the kitchen, putting away food, washing and drying the dishes all by herself.  No one asked her to do so nor does anyone offer to help; it is just her job and she knows it and does it without any prompting or complaint.  Her older brother who is 10 or 11 is responsible for bringing in the water and keeping the woodbox filled.  Everyone works in Mongolian families though there is time for play too. Each person in the family has clearly defined roles and does what’s expected of them from at a very early age.

Finally people began to pick up their things and take their leave.  I had been asked to stay overnight.  A bed was made for me on a couch in the living area, the three children had blankets spread for them on the floor next to me where they always sleep and one of the father’s friends stretched out on the floor as well.  My friend and her husband have a separate bedroom off the kitchen.  Next morning we had tea and leftovers and I finally headed for home.  A precious New Year’s Eve!

And now for the last dinner. When I first came to Muron I had met a young man named Esse who spoke English very well. We had worked together forming the Eco Club until he had to leave for a trip helping the BBC which was filming several documentaries in the Gobi about Bactrian camels, wolves, and later in the west, about eagles.  He had been gone most of 2009 and then I saw him again in early December.  I found out his wife and her mother and mother-in-law had been making fox fur hats and selling them to friends and neighbors.  They were gorgeous and we

Moogie wearing one of her hats

began to talk about how to grow this little business.  Esse is generally a tour guide in the summer and so has a little business of his own.  But he said his wife has this dream of establishing a fur hat and scarf business and perhaps also selling some clothing as well.  I offered to explain to Esse how to write a small business plan that could help guide him and his wife as they find ways to grow the business.

One of the things I said they needed was some type of brochure or at least photos to show people.  So Esse invited me to their

Esse and Moogie in fox fur, Esse's has a tail

home for dinner. One of his friends had given him some fresh fish so he prepared fish and chips for dinner, a result of his experience with the BBC, I suppose. Well, maybe the fish wasn’t exactly like you’d find in Britain, but it was good and the chips weren’t bad either!

After dinner, I took a lot of photos of the hats modeled by Esse and his wife,

co-worker's son's hat

Moogie—who is a fabulous model herself!  And then Esse and I talked about a business plan.  I was planning to leave for Ulaanbaatar in a few days so I offered to bring several of the hats with me and show them to some local shops in UB to see if there would be any interest in ordering some.  I’m now in the process of exploring this possibility and I’m also looking into what might be involved in exporting some to the States or selling them online.

This hat is black fox

I’ve verified that foxes are not on the endangered species lists for Mongolia and apparently are in good supply.  Since they are light, the shipping costs should not be too great.  And I hear that people are wearing fur again in the U.S.  While some may not feel comfortable wearing fur, for me, this craft is an integral part of the Mongolian culture and is a way to make a living where jobs are scarce.  I’ll post a few photos of the hats including one of my hosha neighbor, Bold, looking his Chinggis best! And below it, Bold and Judy.

Is it Bold or is it Chinngis Khan?

If you have any interest in purchasing a hat or scarf, let me know.

So that’s my three dinners, each different, each precious and each very Mongolian.

I’m posting this blog in Ulaanbaatar where I’m spending a couple of weeks working with ADRA to see if we can revive or adapt the Junior Achievement program here in Mongolia.

Judy and Bold swathed in fur

Lots of logistics to consider but am hopeful we can make progress.


January 18, 2010 at 2:31 pm Leave a comment

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