Phew. This past month has truly been hectic – I’ve got my SATs coming up, a Math test to study for, and loads of other assignments to finish off.
Ever since my sister went to Mongolia herself back in 2014 for her “Challenge Week”, which is our school program which allows students to “broaden their horizons”, I had always wanted to visit the place myself. Apart from being a Winter person who would choose freezing over sweating any day, I was especially craving to escape from the bustling city life and into a world of tranquility, simplicity, and peace.
And this was exactly what Mongolia had to offer to me.
After visiting Ulaanbataar for a few days, we drove into the outskirts out of the city and into the more rural areas. As I was sitting in the bus, I could see the scenery drastically change before my eyes. From what were just buildings and Cashmere shops, had all melted into endless mountains furnished by crimson rays, and infinite space which what seemed empty without specks of grazing horses and cows.
I could immediately sense the serenity, and almost stillness, that I had been wanting. What was at the heart of this, though, were the Mongolian Gers.
I came into this trip especially excited to live in a Ger myself.
We were told before this trip that there were no showers, and that we were to bring our own sleeping bags for the night. I did not think that this would be much of a problem – I was ready for a challenge.
But once we began our continuous days of hiking, it was becoming difficult to keep my greasing hair clean and not smell like soil, despite our millions of baby wipes and sprays of dry shampoo. Not only that, but the stove, which stood at the hearth of the Ger, could make the inside feel like an inferno. Though this was good for a few hours, the cold temperatures of the night (which could reach up to -15°C) would make it freezing again! You would be able to hear the campers pleading for the “Fire Lady” to come at night and reset our fire.
Disclaimer: The Gers we stayed in was not authentically Nomadic, as the ones we stayed in were built into the ground, unlike the traditional ones which can be moved freely depending on the season.
You would say that I despised living in a Ger, and would have rather returned to my apartment back home. But actually, because of those difficulties, I loved it.
Although our Ger camp was well away from the heart of Ulaanbataar, I never felt truly isolated. I never felt that I was out of touch with what we call, “civilisation”.
On our second day of living in a Ger, we visited the home of a Nomadic woman, nicknamed “Cheese Lady”. She – you guessed it – made all kinds of cheese both for a living and as a hobby. As we entered the Ger clockwise and sat down, she offered us to eat the cheese that she had prepared before our visit, and to ask her questions about her life and job. As we watched her produce all kinds of cheeses above the stove – ranging from dry cheeses to cream ones – we learned of how she began her cheese-making journey.
“I had always watched and helped my mother make her cheese ever since I was little. I began to be able to do it myself when I was around eight-years-old.”
- Have you always loved making cheese? Or did you feel as if it was only part of your job?
“No, I have always loved it. It is a family tradition,” said the Cheese Lady, with a smile in her eyes.
She had almost seemed surprised when I asked her that question. Wouldn’t a young girl want to pursue something else in life, other than cheese-making? However, when she mentioned that it was part of her “family tradition”, this was when I understood.
As I went back to my Ger that night, I looked at the stove, the two poles that held up the roof, and the three beds around me. I could not help but picture the “Cheese Lady”, making her cheese quietly yet righteously, happily and without complaint. I saw her move around the Ger comfortably, welcoming us with snacks and answering our questions willingly.
This is what we have been lacking in today’s world. It is so easy to forget to be grateful of what you have, from the extravagant and down to the most simplest of things. We can get so consumed by the non-stop deadlines and activities we have, that we find it difficult to be hospitable and caring for one another. Be considerate and respectful to the people around us – because after all, despite language barriers, racial, cultural and any other differences – we are all still humans at heart.
I think we can all learn from the “Cheese Lady”, and how the beautiful “civilisation” she lives in is no less civilised than ours.