Friday, August 19, 2011

A visit to a Kazakh ger

Getting into the Mongolian groove, we met up at 10:00 am to dig further into the questions that Baiteric staff had about credit union operations.  Topics of appropriate loan criteria, sources of funding for operations, the balance between share capital and deposit funds, benefits of Credit Union membership, advertising options and some feedback about audit systems in Canada were covered. 

The depth and completeness of their understanding of the issues in credit union management was a clear indicator of the level of sophistication present within the current management team.  They demonstrated a real thirst to better understand how to meet their goal of 1000 members and 1 billion tugrogs within three years.  It seems the notion of international members was a hot new idea and they plied us with requests to increase our own investment and savings account balances!
A meal in a Kazakh ger
The afternoon was set by an invitation from the Baiteric President (Guljan) to join her at her home in Ulgii.  Finishing off a summer of weddings (two of her children were married this summer) we were ushered into the ger set up in the yard to host the waves of out of town family who came to visit.  What a feast for the eyes as the walls were lined with elaborate Kazakh embroidery hangings, bright coloured carpets covered the floor and colourful bed covers, sleeping curtains and pillow covers were laid out around the ger walls.

Kazakh karaoke?
The Kazakh gers are larger than the Mongolia gers and this was no exception.  As a summer house, there was no stove in the middle, or pole to support the dome of the ger, so there was plenty of space for the long table filled with different appetizers and the many chairs around.  Various members of her family joined the three of us together with the two Baiteric staff.  Her children are all of university age and several of them speak English quite well.  We were treated to multiple conversations in halting English as we learned more about the educational opportunities for young Mongolians, their scholarship and foreign university aspirations and the desire to return to their home soum once education is completed.

Interspersed with soup, more appetizers and rounds of vodka, we addressed some of the specific credit union questions that Guljan had.  We voiced support for the National Credit Union organization and clarified some old perceptions they had.  Given her role in local aimag politics (Guljan is an elected aimag council member) we floated the suggestion of her joining the Board of the National organization to provide relevant rural input into development of the credit union system in Mongolia. 

The afternoon wound to a close with Guljan’s husband’s uncle from Kazakhstan and his rendition of a traditional Kazakh song complete with dombra accompaniment (the traditional two stringed banjo like instrument of Kazakhstan).  Further contributions by Guljan, a song by her husband and a Canadian effort of “This Land is Your Land” added to the Karaoke-like feel of the afternoon.

We parted at 6 pm with promises to get together later for dinner if their final wedding party with the family of the bride would end early.  Alas, it appears the party went on as we never heard from them for the balance of the evening.  Given the constant nibbling through the entire afternoon, we were glad for the break from further eating and relaxed til bedtime harkened.

--Scott Hughes

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