Love bloomed in a Mongolian desert for a Golden Bay woman. Now she and her husband are creating a new life in New Zealand. Charlotte Squire reports.
A Mongolian and Kiwi couple living in Golden Bay have literally created their own love language.
Golden Bay born Zoe Leetch met her future husband Enkhnasan Chuluunbaatar in 2008 on a Mongolian goldmine on the northern edge of the Gobi Desert. The pair, who then worked together on the mine, taught each other English and Mongolian, and eventually created their own unique language blend of the two languages.
These days they live in Golden Bay with their young son Tushinbayar Enkhnasan. Enkhnasan, who is commonly known as Nasa, is now a busy sheep shearer, who came second in the intermediate section of the Golden Bay A&P Show sheep shearing champs.
It took some time for Nasa, who grew up in a family of nomadic herders, to become a Kiwi sheep shearer.
Leetch, who had always had a curiosity about Mongolia thanks to movies such as The Weeping Camel, was working as an artist in Wellington when she was offered an administrative job on the goldmine by a friend of her father's at short notice. She had a weekend to mull it over, and decided she couldn't pass up the opportunity.
"I went over to work at the goldmine, to do admin at the gold site, which included keeping tracks of fuel records. Nasa's job, part of it, was refuelling machines," she said.
Leetch said she was a "a bit of a novelty there" as they'd never had a young Kiwi woman working at the goldmine before.
Nasa had seen foreign women before, but never talked to them. So he thought I would be different, not just a human like him, said Leetch.
On the first night she was there, three people woke up her future husband to tell him a woman with ears that stuck out had come to work at the mine. He eventually went to check out Zoe's ears.
The two ended up working together in the truck and the rest is (quite romantic) history.
Leetch was one of 30 people living at the mine in yurts together, three of whom were Kiwis.
She worked on the mine for four seasons, for seven months of the year. At the end of each season Leetch would go back to Nasa's home, a yurt, to spend time with his nomadic herder family, then she would head back to New Zealand. She says she spent longer and longer with his family.
They were married in 2011 in a Mongolia summer wedding that was attended by Nasa's family and Zoe's twin brother Pax.
Nasa's family were initially surprised that he had married a Kiwi woman, but Nasa said they came to know her and trust her. He said they felt that if their only son was happy, that was good.
If Nasa was in Mongolia he would be taking over the herd and looking after the family. It's a big thing for his father that Nasa is here, said Leetch.
Right from the start Leetch said she couldn't live in Mongolia long term, though short term it was OK.
"Luckily Nasa was happy to try here," Leetch said.
When the couple came to New Zealand they decided that as Nasa knew animals so well, shearing was something he could do.
In Mongolia herders shear with big scissor like blades, and all the farmers shear their own sheep. So Nasa had shorn his family's sheep, but not with the scale and technique of New Zealand, she said.
When he first came to New Zealand for a three month holiday Nasa learnt to shear from Leetch's father. He also checked out a Kiwi shearing shed and saw men wearing singlets and listening to loud music as they worked, "he thought it was was pretty neat", said Leetch.
At first it was hard to shear using the machine, with its vibrating hand piece and sharp blades, but Nasa said he felt good to see the sheep shorn.
After completing a beginners' shearing course in Christchurch, luckily for the couple, a position opened up in Golden Bay for Nasa to shear on a team, despite the fact that he knew very little English. "The other shearers that Nasa was working with would teach him things every day, and the farmers were really good. Everyone was amazing. They were just fantastic with this foreign guy coming in to learn," said Leetch.
Nasa's a pretty small guy, and to him some sheep in New Zealand are huge, she said.
"Sometimes it's like trying to shear a horse, they lift me up off the ground," said Nasa.
The following summer Zoe said one of the shearers damaged his back, meaning Nasa had to "step up".
He did another, more advanced shearing course in Christchurch.
Nasa says he's slowly getting better and better at shearing sheep. His numbers are improving. He's understanding the shearing better, rather than just doing what he's told. He says he really enjoys it.
Sometimes Nasa misses his Mongolian family, but he says it gets easier. On those days he goes fishing on the Takaka River mouth.
Zoe, Nasa and Tushinbayar went back to Mongolia last year for a visit and may one day return to live there for a short time.
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