Mongolia’s shortest person alive J.Ichinkhorloo shares the story of her extraordinary life
Women who are shorter than 130 cm and men shorter than 140 cm are recognized as “little people” in Mongolia. The shortest person ever-recorded is Ms. Ichinkhorloo Jurmed living in Choibalsan, Dornod Aimag.
It was noted in the fourth series of the ‘Compendium of Mongolian Secrets’, the record book of Mongolia published in 1990, that “The shortest person of Mongolia J.Ichinkhorloo was born in 1951 in Choibalsan of Dornod Aimag. She is 90 cm tall and weighs 36 kg”. She was followed by Zina Dovdon, born in 1953 in Ulaanbaatar (117cm) and Dolgor Sodnompil, born in 1947 (124 cm).
Her unique short stature is caused by dwarfism, although both her parents did not have the syndrome and are of ordinary height as well as her older sister.
“A local nurse comes every month and measures my height and weight. As I remember I weighed 28 kilograms and was 65 cm tall, according to the latest measurement. When I was young I was 90 cm tall. I feel like I’m shrinking as the years go by” said Ichinkhorloo in an interview with gogo.mn back in 2014.
In a TV interview with MNC channel, broadcasted last month, she said “Although, doctors explained I had some kind of syndrome, I always believed it had something to do with a curse from nature. My mom used to tell me that, when she was in labor before giving birth to me, she accidentally fell into a headspring of a river when the wheel of our oxcart broke on the way to the hospital. I think that is when I was cursed”.
Headsprings of rivers are considered sacred in Mongolian culture. It is a common belief that bathing in or muddling water in spring can pose great danger to the muddler’s life as it infuriates the water-spirits.
Ichinkhorloo was born, raised and still lives in her hometown. Owning 20 cows for milking, 30-40 sheep and over 200 goats, she is just an ordinary livestock herder.
“I taught myself how to read and write when I was of school age by having a piece of 'Dul' (Flame) newspaper around and trying to read some of it. I also taught myself numbers. I can count up to one million. That is, I think, an impressive performance for me”.
“My parents refused to send me to school because they were worried that I would be mocked and humiliated and also because most of the parents in those days did not want their children to go to school”, she reminisced.
Ichinkhorloo spent her childhood when Mongolia had a population of only 845.5 thousand and over 20 million livestock to herd. Children in the countryside were a major help for their parents in day-to-day activities such as chasing the herds of sheep, goats, cattle and horses to pastures, and returning the herds back home in the evening, milking cows, making dairy products, cooking and tailoring clothes for the family and many others chores.
Nomadic lifestyle, in general, requires each and every family to be self-sustaining manufacturers of their own needs due to the sparse population and the fact that households always had to move from one place to another for better grazing lands depending on the respective climate for each period of the year.
Ichinkhorloo’s mother was a skilled tailor of Deel (Mongolian traditional costume). “Nobody taught anything to me. They would let me watch and help. That was enough for me to learn how to make a nice Deel for people who requested one. My father always brought me the latest editions of school books so that I could study them in my spare time, and I did”.
Ichinkhorloo said the state grants her a monthly benefit of Tgs 103,600 as a disability grant. “I wish it went up to at least Tgs 200,000 and that I would be able to take 2-3 months of benefits in advance so that I could prepare for Tsagaan Sar (Mongolian lunar new year). Unfortunately it is not possible, because I haven’t paid any social insurance deductibles since I have never been employed in my life”, she said in the interview.
Her daily routine includes waking up by dawn to milk the cows after relentless effort of towering up little chairs, and if the cow moves away, having to do that over again, as well as cooking meals for the kind-hearted people who are herding her sheep and goats in the morning, bringing water from the well, feeding her five bottle-fed goatlings, and giving hay away for the cattle. “Running errands used to be a lot easier before my grandson went to the army”, she sighed.
Ichinkhorloo, like any other women, had a chance at life as a mother. She had a healthy son in 1971, after a necessary C-Section in Ulaanbaatar due to her condition.
“Do you think my boy is little like me? He is normal, even taller than average”, she said proudly. Her son Baljir lives with his wife and two children. Before going into military service, her grandson B.Tsendsuren helped Ichinkhorloo most of the time.
She asks the heavens, mountains and rivers that “watch upon her” to bestow a good wife to her favorite grandson Tsendsuren and give them healthy babies. “That is my life’s wish”, she said.
“Good times have come and people became kinder, especially in Ulaanbaatar. They do not make fun of me anymore. Young people would come to me to pose for photographs. It is different from the old times, when children humiliated and called me a freak. I am always also delighted that my locality’s social welfare services show some privilege to me and prepare all the documents as I sit, simply doing nothing”, she smiled.
Ichinkhorloo said that the situation in hospitals and any other places are pretty much the same. Her son and grandchildren take her to Ulaanbaatar for sightseeing.
“They bring out a brand new wheelchair every time I visit them in the city. It is comfortable to travel that way”, said Ichinkhorloo.
“After all, I am grateful to be born a human, not a dog or a bird. I have been living my life to the fullest and reached the fine age of my 60s. My only concern is if any of my great grandchildren inherit my condition. I instruct them all to get their children properly checked up from a young age”.
“I am right in mind, if not brighter than some people. It is positivity and mental strength that counts in life”, said Ichinkhorloo.
Photo by Г.Баярхүү
The article first appeared in the Mongol Messenger's issue No. 10 for March 10.