Expats in UB

Walker Pearce with her fencing sword-1973

By Allyson Seaborn

There’s a saying that behind every great man there’s an even greater woman. Jack Weatherford would be a man who agrees with this notion. Jack is of course New York Times best-selling author of “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World” and receiver of Mongolia’s Order of the Polar Star in 2006. He’s extremely humble and has no hesitation, however, in saying that, “my wife Walker Pearce is much more interesting than I am. There is not much new to say about me, but her situation is unique among ex-pats in Mongolia. A lot of expats here have a macho attitude of adventurism, and they have no idea that a paralyzed woman in a wheelchair has been all over Mongolia.”
Walker Pearce was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1987. These days she has difficulty speaking and is confined to a wheelchair. Jack and Walker are legal residents of Mongolia and spend five months a year here in their beautiful, downtown apartment. Of course, in Mongolia there are no special facilities for disabled people; the streets and sidewalks are full of broken cement and large holes.
Jack feels lucky though and describes how, “When we step out of our building, hands always appear. No one says, ‘May I help you?’ They simply do it and disappear, expecting no thanks. I never have to ask for help. Every week a few musicians come by to play the horse-head fiddle and sing for Walker, in the belief that music is the best medicine.”
Naadam wrestlers and famous dancers like D.Odsuren, regularly frequent their apartment, moving furniture around in order to perform. The President of Mongolia’s Office often calls to see how Walker is doing.
“What people do here for Walker is just incredible. We get a great deal of help and kindness here, perhaps because we’re foreigners. It’s a pity Mongolia’s own disabled people don’t get as much attention. Life can be pretty difficult if you are handicapped in Mongolia.”
Jack gratefully acknowledges that “Mongolia has welcomed us with a care and warmth I can scarcely comprehend. The greatest honor for the two of us is not any official recognition, but these daily acts of concern, along with the young parents who have asked us to name their newborn children. Their request illustrates how much they want to keep the connection with their past and pass it on to their children. I feel that through these children whom we have named, Walker and I will be a part of Mongolia for another generation, long after we are gone.”
I’m shown around the couple’s sunny apartment and admire photos of Walker from the 60’s and 70’s. She was nothing short of stunning and it’s easy to see why Jack fell sodeeply love with her. What I find most striking is a photo of her taken in 1973 while she was learning the art of fencing. Walker squeezes my hand and answers with a quiet “yes” when I ask her if fencing was as exciting as it appears.
The couple have been to over 120 countries together and have shared some amazing adventures. “We’ve been truly blessed,” says Jack, again, looking into his wife’s eyes with the devotion and tenderness of young groom.
One of the things that most people don’t know about Walker Pearce is that she has a Master’s Degree in film and video from the American University in Washington DC. She worked with Charlton Heston on the official film for the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. She also produced a current affairs program for an ABC affiliate in San Diego. Jack looks lovingly at her and recalls, “I always just stayed home with a book – it was Walker who was walking through the door at 3 am after an exciting day at the office.”
Years ago Walker Pearce regularly volunteered for human rights organisations, was involved in women’s issues and worked with AIDS organisations. When she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 1987, Walker decided to work for other charitable organisations, rather than ones which dealt specifically with MS. One interesting thing to note is that when Walker was first diagnosed with the disease, neither she nor Jack told anybody for quite a long time. The couple just went about their lives in true Kipling-esque fashion, “ -filling in the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.”
Jack and Walker’s two children are in the process of organising a scholarship fund in their mother’s name at the prestigious Ashley Hall Girls School in Charleston South Carolina, where the couple’s four granddaughters attend school.
Before saying farewell to the talented and courageous Walker Pearce I learned something quite poignant about her relationship with Mongolia. I discovered that the place where Walker took her last steps, before being confined permanently to a wheelchair, was on a trip to magnificent Lake Khuvsgul.
I would like to thank Walker for allowing the UB Post to publish a beautiful poem, not easily forgotten, which she wrote for her high school’s literary yearbook. It is titled “Peace.”
Silently trees cast their shad ows;
Night and darkness are near.
The Sun goes down slowly
And the time for peace is here.
I love this time of the day
For now my thoughts are clear.
I now can stop and thank the Lord
For putting me right here.

Q&A Time with Walker Pearce

-Describe your first visit to Mongolia
-I first came to Mongolia in 2001, but I went with my husband to Buryatia in Siberia in 1990. -When I came, we made a tour with Mongolian friends for me to see the basic sights where my husband was doing his research, and I too fell in love with the country.
-What is the best thing about living in Mongolia?
-The performing arts are so wonderful here and so easily accessible. You can go to the opera, ballet, or a concert easier here than in almost any other capital city, and the quality of the Mongolian performers is absolutely world class. Now that I can no longer get out, singers, musicians, and dancers frequently come to our home to perform for us. Usually they just show up unexpectedly, but it is always a delight. They say that they have “come to warm your home,” but it is my heart that they are warming.
-How has UB changed over the years?
-There are many ugly buildings now, and the beauty of the old buildings is being lost. The opera, stock exchange, drama theater, and national library are absolute jewels, but they are surrounded by cheap and gaudy buildings now.
-Describe a perfect weekend in Mongolia.
-A perfect weekend is to be in the countryside, sitting quietly with friends and watching the animals grazing for hours on end.
-What’s your advice to UB newcomers?
-Remember that the average Mongolian is much more educated and literate than the average American, and we can all learn a great deal from them about life, history, nature, philosophy, and art.
-Is there anything you can’t live without in UB?
-I have to talk to my mother every day. She is 86 years old, and she always worries about me being so far from South Carolina. When I hear her voice I know that all is right with the world.
-Have you managed to learn any Mongolia
-I can barely speak now, but I love it when a Mongolian child comes up to me and calls out “emee, emee.” Sometimes they want to climb up on the wheelchair with me or help drive the chair.
-What’s your favourite UB restaurant?
-It is difficult for me to eat in public now, but my favorite is when people bring dairy products from the countryside. The öröm (hard cream) here is much like the delicious Devonshire cream that I used to enjoy so much in Australia.
-What’s your favourite pastime or something you like to do to relax?
-When we were studying in Germany in the 1970’s I became a little bored with life there; so I ran away to Paris to learn cooking with Julia Child and Anne Willen. I always enjoyed cooking, but now I enjoy watching cooking shows on TV or watching my husband make a real mess in the kitchen.
-Picture Ulaanbaatar 20 years from now and tell me what you see.
-My prayer is that every child will live in a home with running water and a toilet connected to a sewer system, have a paved street outside the door, garbage pickup in the neighborhood, a decent school, good medical care, and fresh air to breathe.
-What is your favourite Mongolian food?
-Yogurt, öröm, and cappuccino.
-Who inspires you?
-I am deeply inspired by my mother, my sisters, my daughter, and my granddaughters. They connect me to the past, and they let me see the future. I also have a husband a son whom I love, but I will pass over them without comment for the time being.
-What was the last book you read?
-I can no longer read, but I enjoy pictures. I like the old pictures of Ulaanbaatar in the twentieth century, the pictures in my family albums, and also the sketch books of my great-great- grandmother, Eliza Lucas Pinckney. Her father was the Lt. Governor of Antigua, but she left and settled in South Carolina in the mid-1700s and became one of the largest landowners in America. She introduced many new crops such as indigo, ginger, and silk cultivation to North America, and she made elaborate sketches of every plant she dealt with and detailed drawings of how to cultivate it. When she died, George Washington was the head pallbearer at her funeral. I think she would be very happy to see me in Mongolia, and if she were alive today she would be sketching the plants and animals in the countryside.
-Do you have a favourite quote or motto to live by?
-As a girl growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s I always found inspiration in the example of Eleanor Roosevelt. I made a notebook of her quotes, and one of my favorites is: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Every human life has dignity, and we must first feel it in ourselves to then honor it others.
-If you could have dinner with 5 people who would they be?
-Now that I am thinking about these great women, I would love to see the writers Isabelle Eberhart and Simone de Beauvoir, the English mystic Julian or Norwich, as well as another of my ancestors Rebecca Motte who during the American Revolution lit flaming arrows to shoot at her own home after the British took it and made it into a fort. I like being descended from a woman who was willing to burn down her own house for what she believed in.

Short URL: http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/?p=441

Posted by on Aug 14 2012. Filed under Community. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

4 Comments for “Expats in UB”

  1. Will you be able to share my comment with Walker?

  2. I worked with Walker at Inver Hills Community College in Inver Grove Heights, Mn. when she was the director of the college’s Filmmaking program. Prior to leaving the college she had told me about her MS diagnosis and I have wondered periodically over the years how and what she was doing. I enjoyed working with Walker and would like to find out more about the scholarship her children are establishing in her name. Please pass on my greetings to Walker.

    Thanks, Larry Margolis

  3. [...] Now, I’d seen this… hey, I’m a fan, I keep track. Maybe you haven’t–here’s a link. Follow the link, because these are two wonderful people, loved in Mongolia. As Jack Weatherford is [...]

    • I followed your link because I had gone on line to learn what had happened to Walker Pearce since Jack Weatherford kindly took the time to reply to my email, though I’m a complete stranger, and told me he was busy leaving Mongolia and his wife was very ill. (I had written to him with a question after reading “Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World.”)
      Today, I finally got to begin reading “The Secret History of the Mongol Queens” and rediscovered Jack Weatherford’s wonderful writing. This led to my concern for him and for Walker Pearce.
      Thank you for leading me to this beautiful introduction to her.

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