AFC Flag Expedition, 2009

Mongolia Monday- The Saga Of The Scissors

When I went to Mongolia last July on my AFC Flag Expedition, I knew that arrangements had been made to meet with some unknown number of women at the Ikh Nartiin Chuluu Nature Reserve research camp to talk about helping them set up a felt crafts cooperative. I sorted through all my sewing stuff and came up with a pretty good-sized bag of needles, thread, notions and one extra pair of very good sewing scissors to donate to the cause. You can read about the meeting and see photos of the four intense days I spent with the women here.

The scissors, I found out late on the third day, were very, very, did I say very, popular. I was asked during a last meeting of everyone, if I could get more scissors. Sure, I said, how many pair? One for everyone, so 20 pair. I knew I could figure out some way to do this, so I said yes.

Then a burly man in a del, clearly one of the herders who had spent most of his life out of doors and who had quietly come in and was sitting by the door, raised his hand. Through my translator, he shyly asked if it would be possible to get 21 pair. His wife hadn’t been able to come to the meeting, but he would like to give a pair to her because it would make her happy. Yes, of course. I still choke up a little when I remember him sitting there in a ger full of women (Mongol women can be formidable), summoning up the courage to ask a total stranger for something for his wife.

My gift scissors being used to cut out the fabric for a del for my husband. The women made two, one for each of us, in three days. Notice that there is no paper pattern. The skill to make these traditional Mongol garments is either passed down or there are classes where it is taught.

Then, during a series of “competitions” that celebrated the end of the meetings, everyone divided up into teams to do skits. One team did theirs on where the scissors were because everyone was wanting to use them.

I think what is being said is something like "I need to cut this. Where are the scissors?"

Fast forward and I’m back at home. My husband generously offered to donate the money to purchase the scissors through his company. I got on the internet and in touch with one of the staff people at the Denver Zoo Foundation. It turned out that a fabric store chain had 8″ Gingher sewing scissors on sale at a very good price. Sewers know that Ginghers are about the best you can get and that’s what I wanted the ladies to have.  So they were ordered and delivered to my contact person at the Zoo.

Next was how to get them to Mongolia. We’d hoped to send them over with someone, but no one was going in the near future, the scissors weighed a fair amount and, with security being what it is, we felt like it was a lot to ask for someone to take them on a plane, even in checked luggage.

The Director of the Conservation Biology Department, which is who I work through, said that the only reliable way to make sure they got to where they needed to go was via FedEx, so that’s what we did. That cost over $400. My husband had included $100 for shipping in his original donation and the Zoo picked up the rest. So far so good.

The scissors arrived at the airport and then it got complicated with customs paperwork that none of us knew had to be done ahead of time. More fees, which my husband covered. But the scissors were in UB and in the possession of the right person, who would make sure they got to where they needed to go.

All along I’d had this vision of the scissors arriving in the winter when the women didn’t have as much work to do, so would have time to make felt items to sell this summer. And it would be cold and things would be difficult, but maybe this would be a nice mid-winter surprise. And I would be announcing that this endeavor of my Art Partnerships for Mongolian Conservation had been successfully concluded.

Unfortunately, this winter has turned out to be what the Mongols call a “Zud”, heavy snow and extreme cold, as in below -40F, which is a “normal” winter low. Haiti has the world’s attention, deservedly, but for those of us who care about Mongolia, there is a crisis happening there, too. I wrote to the scientist who goes to Ikh Nart every month and who is going to deliver the scissors, asking how my friends are. His reply was that he hasn’t been able to contact anyone, but will let me know when he does. I suspect that he can’t even get to the area right now. Conditions may not improve until April. I know that the Mongols are resourceful people and they’ll help each other through this, but I am concerned. I’ll be very glad when I hear that everyone is ok.

I’ll post as soon as I have news. In the meantime, I’m making my plane reservations for the next trip in July/August.

5 replies »

  1. How far is Mongolia from the U.S?
    Is it always cold (to me under 60F is cold, LOL).
    Keep us on edge (puns intended) as to updates! I would love to know if the scissor got there, too!

    Like

  2. From San Francisco, it’s a 11-12 hour flight to Seoul, Korea, then another 3 hours to Ulaanbaatar, the capital. The distance is around 6600 miles.

    Mongolia is a land-locked country, surrounded by Russia and China, so there is no marine influence. Therefore the temperatures vary greatly. This winter is being exceptionally cold, under -40F, which is the usual maximum low. Spring can be cold, down in the 30s. Summer warms up. The north is pretty pleasant in the summer and early fall. The Gobi, however, can reach over 120F in the summer.

    Like

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