My friend and I were lucky enough to be able to live amongst the nomads for a week! Let me tell you about it …
Our host in Ulan Bator (or Ulaanbaatar) was part of a nomad family and he proposed that we spend a week with them. Of course we accepted his offer!
Nomads live in yurts. They move around four times a year on average, once each season. In summer, they settle as close as possible to a water source (lake, river …). We were there in spring (the baby season in the animal world).
The children go away to school. During the week they live far away from their parents. Schooling is compulsory until the age of 16. After that, they can choose to stay at school or return to the life of their parents. There is a new generation of students today. It sits astride the traditional way of life and the modern world.
That weekwas an unforgettable experience for me. Cut off from the rest of the world, with no network, no news, no SMS... However, they did have a solar panel and a satellite dish! We watched Fashion Week: it was hilarious given the mismatch: our hosts were in traditional dress and the women on the screen were wearing short skirts and high heels!
Tuya, the wife, showed us how to make some typical dishes, such as mutton steamed dumplings. We used to help her cook every day, trying our best to communicate with her. Neither Tuya, nor her husband Arya spoke English. Just a few words, so we drew pictures and became experts at mime!
Nomads have well-planned days. Every morning, they have to milk the cows, and bottle-feed the goat kids and lambs (I loved that!). Every evening, they have to fetch the herds from the steppes. Hongkor, the general handyman, taught me some words to guide them back. So there I was on the steppes, stick in hand, bringing the herd back to the yurt. It is incredible how words alone can lead them back! I felt I had somehow touched the Mongolian soul in some far-flung corner of east Mongolia.
We helped them to count the herd as they need extra hands to do this. They had to be led into an enclosure and then brought back out, one by one through a gate, to be counted. Arya told us there were 780 animals, including goats and sheep.
Nomads, even though they generally all have motorbikes today, still use semi-wild horses. These horses live in quasi-feral herds on the steppes. The nomads bring them in each morning for the day's work and release them in the evening. This happens day after day.
I loved this experience, it really touched my soul. We were all crying when we left. I promised I would return to see them one day and I really hope to do so.