The first time I heard of Mongolia was when I was in school.
I was very impressed by the customs; the nomadic life; the houses made of skins, wood and fabric; and with personages such as Ghesar Khan and Gengis Khan.
I felt very connected to them all, the humble and the powerful, warriors and peaceful beings; but I never imagined I would have the opportunity to experience being in one of those houses called "yurts" in Siberia.
To arrive at the exquisitely beautiful region of Altai from Moscow, I had to take a five-hour night flight. I arrived in Siberia at 6:00 a.m.
Once in Barnaul, the ancient 19th century mining city, I was transported by Jeep, with a chauffeur who spoke only Russian, who I had never seen in my life, and who I was able to recognize in the airport only because he carried a cardboard sign that said "ALICIA."
So, without being able to communicate, we traveled for 11 hours on dirt roads, through fields of sunflowers. Halfway on the trip he stopped and, without telling me anything, he took two sleeping bags from the trunk. On the ground, under strong sunlight, we slept soundly until he woke me so we could continue on the road. We never encountered a bathroom nor a restaurant.
Finally we arrived at the typical Siberian village of Tchendek where my gentle "hosts," Nadia and Vladimir, received me with great deference in return for my delivering the Peace Banner to such a remote place.
This time, they had arranged my room as if for a bride. They also had a shower and the "Vania," a Russian bath that I took advantage of every day, though I never dared do what they do — to immediately immerse myself, after a sauna, in the frigid water of the beautiful riachuelo glacier that passed in front of the charming wooden house.
Because throughout Siberia there is a layer of water just below the grass, I went out walking every mooning wearing borrowed boots and a rubberized cape so I could sit when I wanted and enjoy the marvelous landscapes, filled with beauty and mysticism.There I could spend hours in meditation, making contact with my beloved Teachers without any concern for time.
On one occasion they asked me if I would like to visit the home of a Mongolian family, and I was delighted to accept.
From the moment I entered, I felt at home. The attractive hexagonal form, the fire in the center of the structure, the tubular chimney through the roof that allowed the smoke to escape, the multicolored cushions, their beds lined up along the wall around the fire…everything was familiar.
The woman of the house, with her little round face and small eyes, made me feel even more this sensation of familiarity.
She and her daughter, who was the Teacher for the village of Tchendek in Altai, received me with a huge bouquet of wildflowers, emotionally explaining that they already knew of me because they had seen me in a television drama named "The Rich Also Cry."
In reality, we were not simply two friends; we felt like mother and daughter, so happy to be reunited.
Delicately and lovingly she showed me all the details of the "yurt."
The cradles for the newborns that are put over the stoves so that the babies can survive the 40 degree below zero weather in winter, the grinding stones used to grind wheat -- just like the indigenous ones in Mexico, the curtains decorated with multicolored strips of cloth, the quilts made of fabric scraps, the pictures showing the history of Mongolia, the dolls dressed in traditional costumes that she had made, and above all, the cordiality and love they offered me made me feel like the happiest woman in the world.
She insisted that I dress in the traditional costume of a Mongolian bride, and I complied with pleasure
The famous Mongolian "chai" was not forgotten among all the other gentilities; and it was delicious, served with cookies she had made, honey, and an affection that demonstrated her pleasure at having me there as a part of the family.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, permit me to transport you to this beautiful "yurt" where you can sit and enjoy as I enjoyed.
Translator: Carolyn Kinsman