I had heard rumors that most of the PCTs at the other sites had been given deels (traditional Mongolian robes/dresses) by their host families and were planning to wear them for our Swearing-In Ceremony.
With past groups of Mongolia PCTs, the Peace Corps had provided each host family with money for them to buy their Trainee a deel, but because our group is so big (about twice as big as the previous group), they didn’t do that this year. But almost all of the other host community sites have had PCTs before, and some of their host families had even had Trainees during previous years, so the families at these sites probably assumed they were expected to give us deels. But my host community of Dereven has never had PCTs before, so none of our families were aware of the previous years’ tradition, although a couple of the PCTs here in Dereven were given deels by their family right before Naadam. Regardless, I did want a deel to wear to the Swearing-In Ceremony (and just to have one!), especially if most of the other Trainees would be wearing them, so I asked my host sister one day if she would take me to the market to get one made (I would pay for it of course).
So the Sunday before my last week in Dereven I went with my sister to one of the markets in Darkhan to get a deel. And I am so glad I brought my sister with me, because I never would have been able to do it without her! The first shop we went to didn’t have a huge selection and was (according to my sister) overpriced, but the second one we went to was overwhelming with choices. There were literally thousands of different fabrics to choose from and tons of styles on display. I already knew that I wanted a two-piece deel, with the top and skirt separate so I could wear them together or separately for more versatility, and that I wanted it to be teal (a word for which does not exist in Mongolian, so I had to get my point across by calling one of my hands “khokh” [dark blue] and the other “nogoon” [green] and interlocking the fingers of both my hands). There were a fair amount of teal fabrics, but most of them had designs that I didn’t like so much. I finally found one that I really liked, and then was confused when the shopkeeper kept showing me other fabrics (some of which weren’t even close to teal, like a bright pink one). I don’t know why they kept trying to get me to pick a different fabric, but finally they accepted that I really wanted the teal one. Then my sister had to explain to the lady that I wanted a two-piece deel. They didn’t have any of those on display, but the shopkeeper had a book with photos of women in different styles of deels. There were 2 two-piece styles to choose from, and my sister and the shopkeeper (plus the tailor who works with the shopkeeper) kept going back and forth between which one I should get (I quickly learned that my input had little value in this conversation because what the hell did I know about deels). They finally settled on one of the styles, but then I had to explain to the shopkeeper again that I wanted the teal fabric (the style of the deel I was getting was a white one in the photo, but white looks horrible on my pasty, pale skin, so I shot that down immediately). Even after deciding on the fabric and style, my sister then helped me choose the length of the skirt, the length of the sleeves, the kind of collar, and the type/color of the stitching. After spending what felt like an hour (but I later discovered had only been about 30 minutes), the shopkeeper cut off the pieces of fabric I needed for my deel (which I paid for then), and then the tailor took us upstairs to a giant room full of cubicles for all the deel tailors. She proceeded to take my measurements and to sketch out what my deel would look like. She said it would be ready in 3 or 4 days, and I paid her half up front and would pay the other half when it was done.
Three days later, my host sister called me to tell me my deel was ready and to meet her at the market at 6 that evening to go get it. But when we went to see the tailor, it turned out that she was not yet finished with my deel, she just needed to put the fabric (which she had put into roughly shirt and skirt shapes) on me to pin it and make sure it would fit correctly. No problem, except—God forbid—I was wearing a different bra than I had been wearing the day she took my measurements. I had had dance practice (more on that in a future post) right before this, so I was wearing a sports bra, but I had been wearing a regular bra when she took my measurements. So I’m standing there in my bra with the tailor pushing my boobs around to how they would be if I were wearing a regular bra with more “oomph” (deels, particularly summer fashion deels like the one I was getting, are not stretchy at all, so they have to fit perfectly to your body or they won’t lay right). After the tailor and my sister finish touching and talking about my boobs, the tailor drew lines on the fabric with chalk to mark where she needed to take it in and add the sleeves and collar. Then we did the same thing with the skirt, which was much easier. After the tailor finished, my sister told me we would need to come back in a couple days, when I’m wearing a regular bra, for the tailor to get a better fit for the top. Good lord! Obviously something got lost in translation, because I was told I was getting my deel that day; if I had known I was just going in for sizing stuff, maybe I would have thought to wear a regular bra, because apparently it’s a huge deal. At least now I know that I won’t be able to wear a sports bra under my deel or it will look horrible!
But then on the day I was supposed to go back for more sizing, my deel was actually already finished! I had planned to meet my sister at the market again, but when I called her she said she had already picked it up (so much for getting the sizing perfectly right). When she came home I tried it on, and it looked great!
My deel ended up being relatively expensive compared to the prices I had heard from some other people, but I think that’s because the two-piece style costs more to make and the fabric I picked out may have been kind of expensive. But it was still just under 100,000 tugriks (a little under 40,000 for the fabric, and 60,000 for actually making it), which is approximately $55 (USD). Not bad for an authentic, custom-made deel.