Archive for May, 2010

It’s good to be home…in Muron

I just spent a month in UB working with the NGO, ADRA.  They wanted to develop a printed catalog of the crafts that their Self-Help Groups make with the hope that the catalog could be put online at some point.  I certainly learned a lot about the backroom issues like shipping, pricing, and payments options in Mongolia.  And, at this time, there is still a lot to be resolved.  But we made progress and I made some new good friends.

It’s also called The Toy Museum

While I was in UB I visited two museums that I’ve been wanting to see. One is the International Intellectual Museum of Mongolia established by in 1990 by its private owner Mr. Z. Tumen-Ulzii.  He’s there every day demonstrating magic tricks and answering questions about this bizarre but wonderful little museum that looks like one of his interlocking wooden puzzles.

A Mongolian friend, the astronaut puzzle, and the founder/owner of the Intellectual Museum

I had my picture taken with him in front of a wooden astronaut puzzle.  Here’s a link to read more about the museum:

A more sober museum

Memorial Museum dwarfed by UB's big buildings

The other museum I had wanted to visit was the The Memorial Museum of Victims of Political Persecution.  The following link is to a touching review of the museum: – bizcard

Memorial Museum's sculpture of despair

I went on a Saturday by myself and, as I arrived, two men came out of the museum.  One man told me it wasn’t open on weekends until May and then he said I could walk around and see the museum and the man with him, the jejuur (caretaker), would turn on lights for me and let me out.

Painting of grieving family at Memorial Museum

Do go to the link to read the review that simply but movingly documents the period back in the 30s during Stalin’s purges.  I can verify that the house was the home of Prime Minister Genden who refused to carry out a purge demanded by Stalin and was in turn executed.  Not much is in English but enough to get the message.

Back to Muron

But now I am glad to be home in Muron.  One of my favorite activities is walking to and from work—about 20 minutes each way.  I always run into people I know, people who know me, and children who give me a big smile and always say hi whether they know me or not.   I feel as if I belong here.  When I was in UB, I visited the Khaan bank to use the ATM and came upon a children’s competition for singing and dancing I think.

Dance troupe at Khaan Bank competition

I was only in the foyer of the bank but the children were all around with their parents having makeup applied, putting in their costumes, etc. while TV photographers  took their pictures.  I just watched and took a few photos, but later discovered that I too was being photographed and ended up on national TV.  Even my friends in Muron saw me.  Must be my white hair that attracts them…

The Buddha and two of my friends

Today is Tibetan Buddhism’s big holiday: Buddha’s birthday, enlightenment and his passing into Nirvana. Mongolians follow Tibetan Buddhism. I’m told there will be a bigt celebration at the monastery tonight complete with the floating lights I saw last year.  And tomorrow night I am invited to Sky Television’s one-year anniversary party.  Just before I left for UB I completed a 9-part series of television shows on speaking English.  It was about a guy in Muron whose girlfriend comes to visit and all the places they go.  I understand they want to do more of them.

Saturday I will participate in an event for prisoners sponsored by a local NGO and then later have dinner with one of my Mongolian friends and his family.  He has promised to do the cooking himself!

So life is busy here. And the weather is getting warmer—even some little tiny purple iris are blooming and our greenhouse is filled with little cucumber plants.


May 27, 2010 at 10:12 am Leave a comment

I’m in UB for a month, working with some NGOs…

I could hear the sound of a flute outside the local ex-pat food market just as I was about to leave.  I knew it was probably a street musician so before I went out I stopped to take some tugriks out of my purse.  I always give to street musicians.  As I stepped out the door, I saw a man in a wheelchair playing a lovely melody on a wooden flute.  As I dropped some money in a box, I realized he had no legs and was missing one arm from just above the elbow.  He held the flute with one hand and pressed the stump of his other arm against the holes in the flute, moving it just as dexterously as someone would with fingers.

After I passed him I had to stop and catch my breath as tears filled my eyes.  I stood for a moment thinking about what I had just witnessed.  It’s not so rare to see someone with a handicap of some sort here.  But think what it must have taken to learn to play a flute as he did.  One of the things I’ve learned here is that you’re always trying to find ways to overcome limitations of one sort or another: money, experience, lack of various kinds, the weather, my language skills, etc.  But it seems to me those are as nothing compared to what this man has accomplished.  He will always rise up in my mind as an inspiration whenever I’m tempted to feel discouraged by so-called limitations.  It now seems to me that limitations are just badly disguised opportunities to rise above and show the world what truly can be done.

And there’s another story…

Mongolian people are wonderful, creative craftsmen who can make many kinds of traditional objects in wool, fur, wood, leather, felt, and bone. In Muron, World Vision is working to start more craft-cooperatives—groups of people who work together to make these traditional objects that can then be sold.  The problem is they don’t have a good place to sell their products in our community.  We get a fair number of tourists in the summer on their way to Lake Khuvsgul or the reindeer people in the north or fly-fishing for the big fish, or horse-trekking on the steppes.  They don’t stay long in Muron but if the craftsmen had a more visible and accessible place in town to sell their wares, it would be helpful.  So I’m working with World Vision to find and prepare a place for them to use in time for the tourist season starting in June.

At a meeting World Vision had for those interested in starting a craft-making cooperative, I noticed two men come in together.  I recognized one as a sculptor/woodcarver I had seen at a local business exposition last year.  What caught my attention was that the man who accompanied him had only one leg.  The other leg was missing from mid-thigh down.  I asked about him later and learned he’d been in a motorcycle accident a year earlier.  His leg had been broken but poor medical care had resulted in the need for amputation—not once, but twice.  I also learned he had a wife and three small children and was living in a ger donated by World Vision.  The man had been a carpenter and now the sculptor was teaching the man to carve.

I asked what the chances were of his getting a prosthetic leg.  I learned that the government will actually pay a portion of the cost of a prosthesis—but only if you show proof you have purchased the prosthesis.  But the man couldn’t afford to pay the price up front or for the hospital costs involved.  It was an easy decision. Some friends of mine have kindly contributed a little money to enable me to help others when I see a need.  This certainly qualified.  I said I’d take care of it.  And so the process began.

Before I left for UB, my friend from World Vision and I visited him and his family in their ger.  He would also be going to UB shortly where the prosthetic leg would be fitted and he’d receive rehabilitation.

Not a great picture, sorry. It's hand carved wooden fish about 2 inches long.

He gave me a small fish about 2 inches long that he had carved which I now wear around my neck.  I suggested he carve as many as he could before I went to UB the following week and I would sell them to friends for 2000 T apiece. He made about twenty for me.  I just learned he came to UB and has now gone home to Muron with the new leg and is very happy.

And there’s a P.S. to this experience. I showed the little carved fish to a local craft shop here in Muron whose owners I have come to know.  At present, they have no carved wooden animals at their shop. And they’re interested in finding a source.  I’ve contacted my friend at World Vision and we’re setting up a craft-cooperative of local carvers that will supply these items including the five traditional animals of Mongolia: camels, sheep, horses, goats and cattle.

I’m grateful to friends who helped make this experience this possible.  For me, it’s about realizing there are some things we simply know we have to do, no matter what.  This was one of them.

May 10, 2010 at 2:57 am Leave a comment

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