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October 25, 2008

Yaking about Mongolia

-Duck Creek Park near my house

Today I went to listen to a woman, Vanessa Hammond, speak about her experience working with felt makers in Mongolia and she's the one who named it, Yaking about Mongolia. She was an amazing speaker. Her father had been an officer in the British military and as a result she had travelled many, many places as a child and just kept right on going.

What was really inspiring about her was that she wasn't young. I'm thinking she was probably in her mid 60s. She didn't really explain how she came to take on this experience of organizing felt makers in Mongolia but she couldn't say enough fantastic things about the Mongolian people and her experience was the result of the Canadian Cooperative Association.

She was dressed in a purple brocade silk outfit - a pantsuit - that had been made in Mongolia. And, I have to say there aren't a lot of women who could carry that off standing in the middle of a non descript little room in a small hotel on Salt Spring at 10 am on a Saturday morning.

It was fascinating to see on a map where she had been, to see photos of the steppes, the vastness of the landscape and the yaks.

Her photos took us inside their homes called a ger or yurt and she explained how the temperature goes down to -45 degrees there. In fact, she said that a few years ago the weather was so extreme that many of the men froze to death with their herds so a lot of women are now raising children on their own and it's typical for them to pack up the ger and everything they own which fits into two bags that can attach to the yaks and move the ger every few months.

To hear about the generosity of the people even though the average wage is $2.00 per day and that when the Canadian office was vandalized last week, the Mongolian cooperative (MCTIC) rallied and raised $1,600 to send to Canada. That's a huge amount of money given their standards of living. Unbelievable.

But before she spoke, I had to sit through the meeting of the Canadian Federation of University Women and I have to say, not my scene typically, and I swear to god that I thought I'd walked into a Margaret Laurence novel, like I'd been transported to her fictional town, Manawaka.

The majority of the members were older, much older, and they were trying to conduct a meeting and they were getting approval on a new logo for their newsletter called, wait for it, The Lamplighter.

I mean, it took everything I had not to just stand up and say, ARE YOU KIDDING ME? What year do you think this is? Poor things. Haven't got a clue. They were approving their logo and someone wanted to ad an addendum that would say that it was up to the discretion of the interest groups whether to use it or not. No. No. No.

They were talking about bridge and whether beginner bridge fit within the umbrella of the advanced bridge that takes place...you get the picture. It was like, somebody bring me a sharp spike, I might need to ram it through my forehead if this lasts even 10 minutes longer.

If it wasn't so painful, it would be charming. I'm sure it was charming. Not my kind of charm however. Anyway, bless their hearts, they did bring in a wonderful speaker.

And, in addition to the speaker, I did meet another woman, around my age, who I ended up talking to and who I am going to have coffee with. She's a writer who has just finished writing a book about her experiences working in community development in Lesotho. She taught there and she is concerned about the people losing their oral traditions much the same way so many aboriginal people in Canada have and so she is concerned about bringing language and literacy to people from a top down approach within community development.

She said she was feeling a bit deflated because she's sent her book off to a publisher but nothing has happened and she's back to having to find money.

It's great to meet someone where there's sympatico. Other than that, really quiet day. The initial excitement of the move is beginning to wear off and now it's a question of how to make this work (financially) which is a common problem - in Newfoundland and on Salt Spring.

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