I love living in a ger.
During pre-service training (all the way back in the summer of 2014) we had site placement interviews. We were asked our preferences: city, provincial capital or village, east or west, apartment or ger. The interviewers said they couldn’t promise anything, but they would try to take our answers into account when deciding our final site placement. I told them that I needed to live in a village or provincial capital; city pollution and asthma do not mix. I preferred west, but most volunteers do. Lastly, I wasn’t sure what form my housing should take. Living in a ger appealed to my sense of culture and history, but apartment living would be so, so much easier.
Upon finding out my site placement, I was pleased to find myself in a ger for the upcoming two years. I moved to site, and learned just how difficult it is to live in a felt tent. Autumn summoned rains, leading to leaks and a chilly stove-less ger. Winter brought the harsh cold that rattled my bones. Warming my ger become a normal routine, but still tired me out. Spring meant a meager warmth, but was coupled with dust storms that seeped under eyelids and crooked doorframes. Summer brought swarms of ants, and more floods.
This summer while living in an apartment as a Mongolian Language trainer I recounted to a friend the time the governor of my village had barged into my ger drunk off of his behind. I followed the story with “I am so happy I have been given the experience of living in a ger. But if I had the choice of moving into a warm apartment for the remainder of my service… I would.” One year of ger life was enough.
Of course there was no choice. I was going to live in a ger for the rest of my service, and that was that. Now that I’m back for year two, living in a ger doesn’t seem too bad. I’ve grown accustomed to the challenges. The dirt doesn’t faze me, and the cold will be gone in four months, never to be seen again (did I mention my decision to relocate to Fiji?). Instead of the challenges, I now wonder at the fact that I live in a traditional Mongolian dwelling. My “house” is portable. I can survive by relying solely on myself to provide heat and water. But I don’t have to. My ger also provides me a community. If I bother a sufficient number of people, an adequate number of times a day, my family and co-workers will semi-willingly come help me with anything I need. And yes, they do it partially because I can be very persistent, but mainly they come because they care.
Recently, I’ve somehow grown to love my ger. For all its broken floorboards and moldy smell, it is home. A beautiful, awe-inspiring home rooted deep within authentic Mongolian “national” culture and identity.