Lindsay Myron
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Building a Home Before Sunset

October 13, 2009 @ 4:44 AM | Permalink

When a Mongolian nomadic family migrates to a new camp and sets up their ger (or yurt) the pieces can be put together in as low as thirty minutes.  In the Delgerkhaan region of Khentii aimag, my fellow peers and I were challenged to a race.  With a few words of advice from some experienced nomads and the pink hues of sunset starting to illuminate our faces we quickly got to work.

Here’s the breakdown (or should I say, build up):

Step 1: Put up the walls.  Ger walls are composed of multiple latticed accordion frames that stand about three and a half feet tall when extended.  The ends of our walls were tied with rope woven from the hair of a yak’s tail.  Although I struggled to get the correct weave and final knot down, we strung five sections together and tied both ends to the low, hinged door, completing the circular frame. 

Step 2: Raise the roof.  The ceiling of a ger is supported by two wooden poles called baganas             which hold up the apex of the ger, a web-like circle called a toono.  The baganas are tied to the rim of the toono upside down and then the piece is flipped and centrally positioned.

Step 3: Position the poles. The toono and exterior walls are connected by some fifty painted wooden poles called unis.  One end is positioned in a slot in the toono’s rim and the other end is fastened to the top of the lattice frame.   After placing a few unis in the four cardinal directions, the rest of the poles are put in place progressing clockwise from the door. 

Step 4: Lay the felt.  Gers are insulated from the colder weather with large blankets of hand-made felt.  Quality felt is both warm and waterproof and in the winter months many gers will have multiple layers.  Huge rolls of shaped felt are tossed on to the top of the unis and spread flat to seal the roof.  Wide rectangular pieces are then wrapped around the walls and fastened with more yak hair rope. 

Step 5: Lay the canvas.  The felt on our ger was covered in a thick canvas layer for more protection from the elements.  Once the canvas was spread atop to the roof and along the walls, two ropes were wrapped around the outer walls to hold the canvas and felt in place. 

Step 6: Decorate.  After the outer layers of the ger are secured the inner amenities are put into place.  While some gers can be elaborately decorated with embroidered tapestries, floor rugs and spiritual altars, our ger was only modestly equipped with a metal stove, a low-lying and brightly painted table and four accompanying wooden chairs. 

An hour and forty-eight minutes later and our ger was complete.  We may not have been on par with nomad construction time, but it withstood the midnight winds. 


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Lindsay, Enjoyed the woven threads of humanity in the family lesson on telling time. Thanks for sharing. TIm

Tim Matthews on Nomads Give New Meaning to the Cuckoo Clock 2009-11-03

Ouch. Not a fun way to finish off the semester. Get well soon and safe travels; look forward to seeing you back on the hill next month!

Matthew Hintsa on I've Never Been More Afraid of Pigs 2009-12-06

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