We have been “cultured” again!  This time it wasn’t in the Arts of ballet and opera but it was more on the practical side of things.  We felt like we were on a school fieldtrip as our group rode the bus, walked a ways, and finally found our destination.  We went and saw how FELTING is done—felting, as in craft felt.  However, without even knowing the difference, Mongolian felting is a process made from sheep or camel fleece and I’ll bet the felt you buy in American craft stores isn’t.  They make thick felt for ger walls or thin for crafting.  We visited a small basement shop in the downtown area of Ulaanbaatar.  First, they showed us how they carded the wool, then they cut it off the spool and put it on a table to make some baby slippers.  They added a bit of fluffy fleece here and there and then put warm water on it that flattened it.  They then put a pattern on it and molded the wet fleece over the pattern edges, turning it over and doing the same with the fleece to the other side of the pattern.  So, the fleece hid the pattern piece completely but when the felt-maker cut the slippers in two, we saw the top opening of where the little foot slide into.  There were no seams, either.  She kept adding water and kneading the felt—warm water is important, not too hot!   The slippers were shaping up but still looked like soggy socks.  But, when she put a little green mold inside and kept working the felt it all of a sudden transformed into a little bootie.  She did the same to the second one and before you knew it, we had a pair of baby slippers.  Amazing!  There are so many colors and varieties of slippers of all sizes around town and now we can really appreciate them.

Another day, we went to the cashmere factory. Did you know that cashmere is made from goat fleece? Cashmere is an important product of Mongolia—it’s in both large stores and in lots of little shops.  Mongolia is known for its wonderful cashmere.  We learned that there are four natural colors of cashmere and many items are made in these natural colors.  When cashmere is dyed, it comes in over 200 colors.  Then, they can combine and mix those colored strands to make even more colors.  We walked from room to room watching the process.  They had big machines spinning away and we were walking right next to them.  (Oh, this would never happen in America, thanks to OHSA–there would be an observation deck to watch from or maybe painted floor lines keeping you far enough away or at least protective guard-coverings over the gears and belts!)  Once the goat fleece was spun into thread on spools, it went to the knitting machines in another room.  There were many machines and they were computerized to produce a certain panel for a specific article of clothing in a certain size.  Next, of course, was the sewing room for sewing these panels together.  The sewing room was filled with women sitting at sewing machines—it made me think of what a third-world country sweat shop might look like.  The sewing workers sat at round-ish sewing machines.  They had to put the end stitch of every knitted row from one panel on little spindles and then hook them onto another panel’s knitted ends.  Wow—no wonder cashmere is pricy!!!  Last of all, we saw the ironing and shaping room and finished cashmere products hanging up, ready to be shipped out.  Then, of course, they offered an outlet store, a natural cashmere shop, and a Measure and Make department.  It was fun to look at clothing, coats, scarves, and soft snuggly throws.  You just can’t walk through any of it without touching and feeling the softness.  So, now we’re official appreciators of cashmere!

We went to Baganuur this past Sunday.  It’s like driving from Salt Lake City to Brigham City on a narrow, bumpy two-lane road.  We took a carload of Mongolians with us and luckily, one was a returned missionary who spoke English quite well.  In their Sunday School class, they were discussing the Prodigal Son and the teacher asked if any of the participants had ever lost something and then found it.  An older toothless gentleman commented that his friends thought he had lost his Buddha statue that had been on display in his house for many decades.  He laughed and said it was lost for good and would never return since he was a member of the true church now.  Can you imagine how he had to change his ways?  It was a good day and we piled in the car quickly after the block and returned to Ulaanbaatar so some could attend a district meeting.  Our poor driver (Elder Francom) was quite tired by the time the day was over!

On Friday we had the opportunity to perform some service.  The first baptized Mongolian, Enkhtuvshin, lives in a ger district and has a very large yard.  He has worked hard in his yard over the years making rock walls, a root cellar, greenhouses, and other structures.  He and his wife, Dashka, live in a bashan but it looks very nice as he has made it into a little rock home.  He has been quite a worker!  He is old, his children have grown, and his arthritis has made it so that he cannot do yard work anymore.  The Lewises, four strong Elders, and the Francoms took on the task of planting his garden.  We arrived and Dashka directed us to the garden area.  The Elders were assigned to move about a million large rocks–great assignment for young muscles!  We took on the garden area.  We worked and worked and it really felt good to be outside in the sunshine and digging in the dirt.  We stopped for lunch and worked some more.  To our delight, Enkhtuvshin and Dashka’s children and families were coming to plant the following day so we turned most of the soil and the rock pile was much smaller, but we left because we had to be back for English teaching.  Wow…it was a great sense of accomplishment as we looked at the rich brown soil of the planting beds ready for the following day.

Of course, we got back, hurried and changed, walked to the church building…and then we waited and waited and waited.  The traffic was horrible and our driver was stuck in it.  Finally, the Ministry of Labor called, cancelled our classes, the driver turned around and we walked home.  We were disappointed because we had such good classes on Monday and Wednesday.  Oh well, we’re prepared for our first lesson of the week!

It’s been another full week and we are grateful that we learned to value work through the years.  Sometimes, we are hard at work in the self-reliance center, sometimes its in either the Suhkbaatar or Baganuur Branches, and other times in the yard of a sweet older couple.  Wherever it is, work is good.  Service is good.  There is no greater feeling than to walk away from a job well done that has put smiles on others’ faces.  Service is magic–have you ever noticed how successful you feel at that moment?

Take care of one another and know that we love you all!

Elder & Sister Francom


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