Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Frozen Home

Mongolia is a cold country. Not many people will try to debate that statement. Temperatures here in the winter probably average around the -20s and get down to the -40s not even including the wind chill. The ground is frozen for most of the year and rain is only a summer phenomenon. Most people fight the cold with fire. The center of the ger is a large, usually metal, stove which is used to keep the freezing temperatures at bay. My house has a similar stove attached to a wall which serves the same purpose. With enough effort and attentiveness, a person can keep their home sufficiently warm throughout the 8-9 months of freezing temperatures.
Anyone that knows me knows that I am lazy. I frequently choose to simply be uncomfortable rather than put forth the effort required for comfort. Mongolia has been testing the limits of my laziness since I arrived, but still has not broken the habit. Mongolians, and reasonable foreigners, are expected to build a fire at least twice a day during the fall and spring and three times during the deep winter. This means that someone must chop a lot of wood and build a lot of fires. Doesn‘t that sound like an annoying amount of work? In Mongolian families this work is divided among the family. The father, sons and grandfather might chop the wood. Someone else will chop some pieces into kindling. And whoever happens to be around when the fire dies out will build a new fire. I live alone, and so I would have to do all of these things myself (actually my school workers are willing to chop the wood for me, I just don’t like to impose on them).
I do chop wood; I do make kindling; I do build fires. I just don’t do them with the frequency that is required for a truly comfortable house. Most Mongolian homes probably have average temperatures roughly equal to a home in America, 60-70 F (I’ve never seen a thermostat inside a house so that is a completely made up number). My home varies greatly. On days when I feel like putting forth the effort or on days when I expect visitors, it hovers around 60 because I build a good fire and keep it going. Slightly lazier days, the temp stays around freezing. I can see my breath but my food stuffs remain unfrozen. Then there are the days which supply most of my Mongolia anecdotes, when my home is colder than any freezer I’ve ever seen. Essentially because I haven’t built a fire for a day or so, my home adjusts to the same temperature or maybe even colder than the outside temperature. My water freezes in its container, the oil freezes on my shelf and my eggs freeze in their shells. These things freeze due to prolonged exposure to the cold, but my favorite freezing stories are the stories of things that freeze instantaneously.
When the ground is covered in snow, you’re bound to track snow and dirt into the house. One day I decided to clean some of this mud off of my floor with a rag and soapy water. I poured the water into the bucket and began to dip a rag in and wipe the rag across the floor. I noticed after washing for a while that some of the dirt marks weren’t coming up and scrubbed at them harder. Eventually I took my finger nails and started scratching. My finger nails broke through a layer of ice that was covering the dirt. My washing water had been freezing as it touched the cold, cold floor. I built a fire after this incident and tried washing again later when it’d warmed up a bit.
Another cleaning story, I’d been away for a day from my house and so of course hadn’t built a fire and my house was cold. The cat had stayed in the house and had pooped and peed on my floor. I decided that the smell needed to be cleaned away more than I needed a fire, so I poured some water and soap into a small tin box. Less than a minute later I returned with my cleaning rag and noticed crystals of ice inside the tin. I started my water boiler (which actually had ice in it) and added hot water before cleaning.
Most of my other fun freezing stories take place outside, so I’ll make that a topic for another day. I just want to say again that most Mongolian households don’t have these issues. I am a lazy housekeeper and thus have a cold, frozen wasteland of a home, but don’t be afraid of the country in general. If you come to Mongolia and visit any home, it will be warm and comfortable and the people will stuff you full of hot food and drink.

1 comment:

  1. Does the snot freeze in your nose? That happened to me all the time while living there. Hope your winter is going okay!

    RPCV M20