Sure we’ve all heard of “those overseas posts” – you know, the shopping ones. The ones in which expats can’t seem to stop shopping local products. Before Mongolia, we had not been to one of “those:” Brazil’s currency was too expensive at the time we lived there (what a difference a few years makes, it seems now) so other than bringing back a new family member, the only other “big” thing we bought there was a beautiful trunk in the town of Embu outside of São Paulo. In Vienna, we preferred the liquid and drinkable version of local products (yes, that would be wine) but stocked up on the children’s collection of playmobil toys. And Canada, well, that was before the real shopping expat years set in. Oh wait, we did bring back a kid from there too so I guess that counts enough for a souvenir, right?
And then we moved to Mongolia. OH, THE SHOPPING! I can finally understand what it’s like to live at one of “those” posts because I am living it ….daily. It’s true – despite the economic hardship this country experiences, there are many, many shopping opportunities which contributed to John bluntly referring to our house as the “little …. well not little, actually – big little Mongolia.”
So let’s start with the shopping basics, if you will: Souvenirs and cute things to decorate a shelf or two with which is exactly how most of these items were purchased. In case you don’t recall, our household effects traveled a bit longer than anticipated so we had to fill the empty house somewhat to make it feel more like a home.
As you can see, Mongolian gers are available in all sizes and make cute presents (fun fact, every visitor we have hosted has arrived to find a ger on his pillow). The white ger next to the white camel (and the one in in the picture on the lower right) lights up and when you open the door and you can see traditional ger furniture inside as well as the coal oven.
The blue ger on the left side of the white camel is a Kazakh ger – I bought it when the Eagle Hunters came to UB in March but I’ll be seeing them for real when I fly to the “real” Eagle Festival in the far, far West of the country. And yes, there will be a thorough blog update to follow that trip!
See the camel and ger checker board on the bottom left? I bought that in Gobi – the day Luca was throwing up left and right from all the off road driving. A young girl had set up her stand next to the Flaming Cliffs selling her hand-made felt products in the midst of wild goats and hot sun and sand. I talked with her and was majorly impressed by her English and when she told the kids and me she had made every felt camel and ger herself (along with a bigger ger to store all pieces), we had to buy it from her. I still see her smile and growing excitement when I paid her – purchases such as these are always humbling for me when I (and increasingly the kids as well) realise how much of an impact our relatively small purchase has on Mongolian families especially those in the countryside.
Next up: clothes! Oh my, are we in custom-made clothing heaven here. I took these pictures last fall when a few of us from the Embassy hired seamstresses to sew dresses and gowns for the Marine Ball. I bought the fabric on the bottom left to make a traditional Mongolian deel/dress. Just shopping for the fabric was complete overload – I could not make a decision for the life of me with all those choices and laughed when I finally picked out a brown and turquoise pattern only to have it rejected by the seamstress. Fortunately, she liked option number 2!
Other than hats, dresses, and everything in-between, I am loving my yak wool (dark brown) and camel wool (light brown) throw blankets – they are so soft and warm for snuggling….even the kids can’t lounge in front of the TV without wrapping themselves up in camel or yak wool. And then, there are the beautiful Kazakh-pattern pillow covers that dress up our Embassy furniture a bit more!
And let’s not forget about socks and leg warmers – again made from camel, yak, or cashmere yarn to your liking. All this coziness is guaranteed to make the long cold winters here a bit more tolerable and fashionable.
Yes, that is indeed a ride-on camel! May I introduce? His name is Tim – short for тэмээ (the Mongolian word for camel) and he is awesome. He was my crazy Christmas purchase for the kids last year and they love him …. so naturally, I had to find a (girl) friend for Tim this year which lead to our newest addition, “Enkhe” – the other bigger camel (short for “peace” in Mongolian as I bought it on Peace Avenue right after Peace Day; the name isn’t sticking so we’ll probably find an a new one soon).
And since we’re talking about camels already, let’s take a look at some of the local rugs and art work that has been invading our home. All Mongolian-made rugs (sheep wool) and that is indeed a camel on a rug (another excellent purchase from the Gobi).
And yes, we also have a camel picture and paper cut – see!? I have never bought so much local art work as I have here – the talent is just amazing. I especially love the painting of the ger district on the bottom left made at a school for adults with disabilities. I bet you’ll never know where the pink camel in the pink frame hanging on the pink wall has its home?!
And finally, finally – the latest “big” purchases from earlier this summer – our very own Mongolian ger furniture. Custom-made by hand. The traditional furnishings of a ger are orange but that doesn’t quite go with our color scheme …. so I asked for blue but kept a small orange trunk to remind us of true Mongolian colors.
And there you have it – our big little Mongolia in our home.
Now excuse me while I research some other camel shopping I could be doing!