From Uriankhai to Yak Festivals

September 15, 2015 at 2:13 pm Leave a comment


Gift from Alta

At the end of Peace Corps training in 2008 Alta and I exchanged small gifts. I gave her a little bracelet with a heart on it that a friend had given me and she gave me an small embossed leather purse. Alta who is Mongolian and a Peace Corps Volunteer with a year’s more experience than I in Mongolia helped our small group of Business Development volunteers learn what kinds of things we might be doing during the two years we would serve.

Alta and I have stayed in touch ever since. She has always wanted me to visit Khenti, the province where her family lives and the home of her ethnic tribe, the Uriankhai people. (They are the tribe that, it is claimed, know where Chinggis Khan is buried–but they’re not telling.) This year, I arrived in Ulaanbaatar at the time of a Uriankhai reunion. Some of the Uriankhai people live in the western Altai region so the reunion was in a central place, a ger camp about an hour outside Ulaanbaatar. It’s a three-day event similar to Naadam. Alta lives in Ulaanbaatar and so picked me up in UB and I was able to spend the middle day at the reunion.


At one point, it began to rain a bit and her extended family gathered inside a large ger to wait it out. To entertain us, a couple of musicians played the tribe’s traditional instruments and I recorded them. I think I was the only outsider there and am so grateful I could be a part of this special event.




Traditional Uriankhai costume





Of course, I visit the Mary & Martha Shop in UB

It’s the very best Mongolian Craft Shop in UB. I have come to know the owners, Irene and Bill Manley, well over the years. Here’s how they describe their business: “Founded in 2007 with the express intention of running an ethical, fair and transparent business that has a primary objective of supporting the growth of small and micro indigenous businesses in Mongolia.” Each year, I have brought back or had shipped some of the lovely handcrafted items such as the embroidered handbags. I sell them at cost to friends here or at a local craft fair. Here is their web address: You’ll find it interesting reading.

Then, on to Muron

The little propeller plane takes about an hour and a half to get to Muron. I love looking down on the landscape, unrolling under us — mountain, hills, and steppe with occasional tiny little gers showing white against the mostly tan landscape. And when I land in my Mongolian hometown, my friends are there to meet me.

The family I stay with includes Enkhuush, Otgo, Sarangoo (now about 3) and Urangoo (now about 1 ½).   During the time I’m there we celebrate a couple of birthdays: the husband Otgo’s and their niece’s whose family lives nearby.

Birthday girl!

Birthday girl!

My friend from Switzerland, Andrea, is also there. The little class she started for children with disabilities has had a good year. She has trained a local Mongolian as a teacher and she has also come in winter during the school session to work with the teacher and the students. We’re told a number of people, both parents and educators, have come from as far as UB, to observe the teaching methods and see the progress these little children are making.

So many good friends to see…

Bold and Tsermaa have started growing trees in addition to their vegetables both in their greenhouse and also along some new property near the river. They’ve managed to set up some irrigation in both places. They are hopeful their new little trees can be used to do some reforestation in Mongolia and would like to find an organization they could hook up with. If you know of any contacts, let me know.

Cabbages growing by the river

Cabbages growing by the river

Andrea and I spent a few days out at Bat-Erden’s ger camp. It’s undergoing some renovations with the work performed mostly by volunteers from a number of places in Europe and elsewhere. Set on a bluff overlooking the Delgermuron River valley with herds of animals moving up and down it, it is still one of my favorite locations in Mongolia,

In Muron itself

I was delighted to find that Ganaa, my journalist/broadcaster friend, is now the head of Sky TV in Muron. I’ve known her and her family since 2008 and am so proud of her progress.   I also had a great visit with my friends, Jagaa and Tsolmoo. They were both single when I first knew them and now they are married with families. What a privilege to continue to be a little part of their lives.

Tsomoo, Judy and Jagaa

Tsomoo, Judy and Jagaa








Of course, no visit would be complete with seeing Batbayr, the woodcarver, or rather, I should say, Batbayr, the carver. This year, he was carving a stone bust of an important person (I don’t know who). Jagaa and I went together to see him hard at work and then he insisted we come to his home for buuz and milk tea. Another friend, Badmaa, also came along and serenaded us with the morin khuur (horse-headed fiddle) and a little throat singing.

Batbayr's carving

Batbayr’s carving


Batbayr’s howling wolves








And finally, the Yak Festival

The day before I left, my friend, Esee, and his wife Moogie invited me to go to a yak festival nearby. It was being sponsored by the people from Jinst Muron, a little company in Muron that makes knit items using what I call yak cashmere—it’s the soft wool that’s similar to the more familiar goat cashmere. I have brought home a number of their sweaters, hats and scarves in the past. We had a good time watching the yak milking contest and admiring these hulking creatures who look as if they were designed by a committee with many opposing views.

Yaks from white to black

Yaks from white to black

And one more stop before heading home.

This year, my flight went through Hong Kong with a layover from 5 pm one day until 10:30 the next morning. Tracy’s brother-in-law works for Citibank and spends a lot of time in Hong Kong so he met me at the airport and I got to see a few of the sights including the spectacular harbor and the brilliantly lighted skyscrapers surrounding it. Going from one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth (2.8 million) to Hong Kong (over 7 million) is a bit of an adjustment. I felt as if I was continually surrounded by crowds of people who were following me everywhere! But it was really fun to see and I was grateful to have a good guide.

Now, back home in Marblehead, I am enjoying my own view of sailboats and ocean. And in October, I’ll begin splitting my time between Marblehead and a little apartment in East Boston. It’s a community of great diversity and such friendly people. Stay tuned!

p.s. If the format of my blog is driving you nuts, it’s the same for me!  I’ll be making it much better soon!


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Greece for three Christmas Eve 2017

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