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New life in the Yurt

Rarely does a screen divide a yurt in two, and then only for a time, when the eldest son, having married, brings his wife beneath the paternal roof. Only when the second son marries will the first have a yurt of his own. It is cold. Only the embers still remain awake. The dogs are howling wolf! From outside the felt walls come bleatings and the stamping of horses. Here at last is a roof as it ought to be, through which the glittering stars can be admired before one drops off to sleep. Remote and encircled by the yurt, they lie at the bottom of some fabulous lyell...

If they could only tell all they have seen enacted here in the very heart of Asia, this empire of the Turki-Mongol nomads! For how much longer will their descendants go on living as they lived a thousand and ten thousand years ago? Now the Bolsheviks are trying to settle them, collectivize them...

Squatting in front of a neighbouring yurt, four women, with all their might and with wands that whistle in their hands, beat smartly on some camel-wool scattered over a sheet. Rhythmically the arms rise and fall, the elbows are pulled sharply back, and the sticks automatically release themselves from the flocculent mass.

It is the first process in preparing the felt, and only the summer wool is used, as giving the best wear.

Each yurt has a contrivance for varying the diameter. In the construction the first operation is to set up, end to end and in a circle, six or eight pieces of lattice-work some four feet six inches high, which makes a kind of palisade fastened together by thongs.

This lattice-work consists of laths placed obliquely to each other to form lozenges. At every intersection they are pierced through and tied together with a small thong, thus forming a sort of scaffolding which can be given whatever dimension is desired. It is in some sort the walls of the dwelling, round which straps are tightly bound.

Then a woman stands in the middle of the yurt, and with a forked prop raises the dome of the roof, while other women insert the points of long poles into the holes provided for them. The poles arch, and so take the weight of the felt walls. Then the lower ends of the poles are fastened to the tops of the lattices, and the carcase of the dwelling is complete.

After which a low hurdle of willow wands is placed around the lattices, and felt squares—'koshmou'—are fastened to the frame and pegged down in all directions. A felt lid covers the hole in the roof, and a running cord enables if to be opened or shut at will.

"Turkestan Solo" by Dervla Murphy