Before I went to Mongolia, I held the unmindful notion that Mongolians were all one ethnic people. I couldn't have been more wrong.
There are as many as 20 different nationalities and ethnicities, and the aimag (province) of Hovd, where we spent most of our time, is home to as many as 17. Historically, each group speaks a distinct language or dialect and has its own traditional dwelling and settlement pattern, dress and other cultural features such as literary, artistic, and musical traditions.
Today for Our World Tuesday and ABC Wednesday - where the letter of the week is U - I introduce to you a warm and hospitable family of the minority group Uuld (also spelled Ööld).
The family compound with a traditional ger (tent) and a converted 20-foot container is in the provincial capital of Hovd.
We were first invited into the ger. There we met the extended family headed by the patriarch.
Ruth was on a search for unique footwear, but she was only shown modern Mongolian boots. The youngest two generations no longer wear traditional costumes and I wondered (as I often do) whether our globalized world wasn't losing some of its richness.
I asked the mother of the younger boys, "what do you teach your children to make them feel Uuld, as distinct from Mongolian?"
She replied, "We feel both Mongolian and Uuld. We have commonalities with all the ethnic groups, except the Kazakhs, and there is much inter-marriage these days. We may have different accents, but we all now speak dialects of Mongolian."
When we left the ger, she proudly showed us her vegetable garden.
Finally she invited us into the converted metal container.
Ruth was slightly disappointed not to find her boots, but for all of us meeting this Uuld family gave us a special and unique glimpse into another way of life... yet really, how different is it?