For you were strangers in the land of Egypt
Poems of Ruth - for Shavuot

Loving the Ger

One of my favorite verses in Torah is Deut. 10:19,  וַאֲהַבְתֶּם, אֶת-הַגֵּר  כִּי-גֵרִים הֱיִיתֶם בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם / v'ahavtem et ha-ger, ki gerim hayyitem b'eretz mitzrayim: "and you shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." It's a powerful ethical teaching; it's a big piece of how Ethan and I try to live our lives. (Indeed: earlier today I shared a serious post which borrows that verse as its title.)

It also makes me grin because of a multilingual pun. The Hebrew word ger means stranger or foreigner. The Mongolian word ger means a small round dwelling -- what most Americans would call a yurt.

I got interested in gers about ten minutes before I first landed in Mongolia. As the plane descended to the Ulaanbaatar airport, I saw green hills dotted with white. The little dots were sheep - the big dots were gers.

Gers are circular houses, lived in by many Mongolians and by some other central Asians. They're portable, lightweight, spacious, well insulated and comfortable. While more people know the Russian word "yurt", many Mongolians prefer the word "ger".

So writes Ethan in his photo-essay Behold the Power of String, written (and posted) in 2004, the year we built our first ger in the backyard out of "non-dimensional lumber" (saplings held together with twine.) The following year we built our second ger, this time out of latticed wood. We've reprised it every year since.

On New Year's Eve Day, we assemble the frame, cover it with shiny insulation and then with canvas, line the floor with tarps and plywood and then an assortment of old blankets and rugs. It becomes our extra guesthouse over New Year's Eve.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Some years, the ger framework has served as our sukkah, too. I love our homegrown ger. It's beautiful, it's fun to build, it's fun to camp out in. (If you can't see the embedded slideshow, you can go directly to the Homegrown ger photoset at flickr.)

But I have to admit, our old ger pales a bit in comparison with our new one, delivered and assembled by the guys from Groovy Yurts:

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

(If you can't see the second slideshow, here's my Mongolian ger photoset.) The giant semi-trailer arrived on our street this morning; Yves and Felix cheerfully loaded the pieces of the ger into my Toyota Rav-4 (with Drew in his carseat, enjoying the show) and we drove it up the hill. Then I did my best to keep Drew out of their way while they assembled the ger from its component parts.

We're going to build a platform for it (it's better for the ger to be raised slightly, rather than placed directly on the -- right now very wet! -- ground.) And I know Ethan has hopes of bringing it with him to Boston at some point. But it is so cool, and so beautiful, and Drew thinks it is so nifty, that I'm not sure it's ever leaving our back yard again.

Love the ger? Absolutely.