Aisholpan and Ulgii
Our family curled up for a movie and soon I was teary. The Eagle Huntress is definitely a good flick, and Aisholpan is so cute, but there was another layer affecting me. Every scene from the movie had a road I once drove on or a person I once saw or even a valley I played in with my children. Remarkable considering the vastness of Mongolia and that it is the most sparsely populated country on earth behind Greenland. WaterWood Tubs holds some photographic evidence.
Timing is Everything
The timing of this movie that my in-laws threw in my lap was stunning. This week we finished our first furniture project built and sanded to final finish in Mongolia. I remotely worked with our carpenters in Ulgii (Aisholpan’s county seat) to produce one stool seat and footrest per carpenter’s shop. The two shops in Mongolia have guys I worked with for 3.5 years and trained in several specific forms of carving and laminating. Today, the seat from each shop is in the mail at grossly exorbitant prices.
Collaboration Yields Wisdom
COVID 19 has done funny things to mail routes in Central Asia. Last week I sent a tool to Russia as “there is no way” to send mail to Mongolia according to my local post office, UPS, and FedEx carriers. My friends in Russia assured me there were taxis transiting the border into our hometown within a week. Friends get things done when no one else can.
I’ve learned a few things about working remotely from this very tangible project across continents:
- It helps to be from the place one is communicating with–or at least be empathetic with those receiving your communication.
- Knowing a foreign language or two helps cross borders but it doesn’t fix everything you hoped it would. Pictures still rule.
- Love makes anything worth doing. Even a tiny chair collaboration. I’m so enjoying this process.
From Mongolia with Love
As we decided whether to start this project, I did not use income or Internal Rate of Return or even the presence of an order to guide me. It was love. I love these guys. Yerkinbyek is amazing and difficult at the same time. He is a better carpenter than me and makes a super tight bathtub. Check the one out in Ulaanbaatar sometime that he has showing down at Tempini. His dad died when he was young and he’s had to be father and son and brother all at the same time. We used to go play some basketball and Yerkinbyek would wear his Jordans. I always had great respect for the seriousness he brought to anything. But I saw him smile and compete and I knew he felt better.
Exposed by Akhtilyek
Akhtilyek wanted so bad to be a carpenter and now he is. One of our main lead guys died last year in a tragic car accident along with his wife and children. After this, Akhtilyek had to grow up really fast from shop hand to lead guy. He’s starting his first stair case really soon. He’ll do great. He was 19 when we started training together and now he is married with several children.
Akhtilyek got the legs on one of our old Elizabethan tubs wrong 6 times in a row. This was hard for me. Every time he did one set wrong (2 legs), he wasted an entire block of imported gold from Russia that we worked so hard to get–remind me to tell you about the Russian lady CEO who met me at the border in her Volvo and asked me to cheat on my wood contract so I could pay less tax to Russia and Mongolia. All this was complicated by Akhtilyek’s answer when I asked how he screwed this one up. Shrugs and says, “I don’t know!” Oh. My. Goodness.
More than once, I walked away and told him to ask Yerkinbyek for help. I was slightly embarrassed for my lack of patience, but later he told me he was thankful for my way with him. He finally got it after 6 tries. I named him master of the legs!!! I never forgot his response. He said,” You are the first man to tell me to try again every time I messed up the legs on your tubs. Before when I was working for my dad or another carpenter, they would just get impatient and take away my tools and finish the work for me because it was easier.” There were tears in his eyes.
Akhtilyek was filled with gratitude for my seeming patience and helpful ways. As great as this story sounds and paints me in a good light, there is an uncomfortable backstory to it.
It Gets Real
I was treating these guys so well while angry at home. I was impatient and treating my sons and wife like they were annoying and less than my workers. Eventually during this very period of time, my oldest son called me out and asked me,”Why do you treat us differently than people who come over to our house?” Silence. Oh shit. Silence. It’s true. Am I a fraud? Do I do this to my whole family? Mouth open I stare. Blink. Tears.
Even now I tear up and get a little warm thinking about how I can talk in a very irritated way with my family but act like a hero while out in public. As I seek to build my team and grow a business at the right pace and for the right reasons, I realized something anew: If I can’t get along with my woman while working on accounting together for business, I don’t have any place hiring someone else to work on accounting with me and treating them well. If I can’t love my children like they are awesome and accepted now at their current state, why do I think I can hire someone new who only sees my good side.
Love is the Goal
I want to be the same person with these people as I am with those who know me less. Only then will my teams and business and chair projects and fame and revenue be built on something true and of integrity. God help us.