Today I drove way out of my comfort zone to Sukhbaatar District, which is in the northern part of the city. It's considered a ger district, though most people there live in small houses.
I was with Lee Lawrence, a freelance journalist who is also my dad's wife. She's interested in the work of the Urban Development Resource Center (UDRC), an NGO which works with local neighborhoods to improve living conditions. They do it by creating a savings collective in a single neighborhood. The act of making small, daily contributions to a collective fund knits the residents of a street together, a big accomplishment for people with independent, nomadic roots. They use the savings to improve their neighborhood and make small loans to members.
You can see the difference. All the gates are painted bright blue. Each home has a little mailbox and trash can. Newly-planted trees line the street. One street even had a narrow sidewalk. The daily contributions of 100 tugrugs a day per household (about 7 cents) add up, and actually make a difference.
For some reason I like being in ger districts. I like their simplicity, their roughness. I'm impressed by the people who so recently moved to the city from the countryside, who first live in their gers, then save up and build houses. Conditions are harsh, but I have the feeling they'll keep improving their situation.
It was chilly today. I saw a truck delivering sacks of raw coal. You could see smoke coming out of chimneys, and smell the first whiff of pollution which will soon grip the entire city.