Culture & Community, Nomad Project in Mongolia by Erin Scholes
Living with the nomads in Mongolia!
I didn’t think I could have had so much fun in the Gobi desert, with people I could barley have a conversation with, but I had a brilliant and unforgettable time, I have so many stories that I will keep and share forever. I was in Mongolia for a month and living with the nomads for two weeks at a time; I went back to Ulaanbaatar for one weekend to shower and send a couple of emails. I think I had the best time with the nomads because I simply said ‘yes’ to everything, consequently little things such as travelling on the back of a scooter turned into adventures and great stories.
After my first night with my host family in a ger, they planned to move closer to the river. Moving gers is tiring! It took us from sunrise to sunset to move our ger, but we did get pretty delayed by some Mongolian business men who were on a trip and wanted to sit down with us, and once a bottle of vodka is opened, it has to be finished, but it made the moving a lot more entertaining.
All the nomads around where I lived were like one big family, they all helped one another out and most of them were related somehow, like my host mother’s daughter married their neighbors’ son, so the families I spent a lot of time with shared the same grandson. I’m glad we moved because now we were walking distance to the river, which became a saviour during the hot weeks.
Little Nadam and other celebrations
My host family and I went on a bit of a road trip to get to the horse racing. It was about a 2 hour journey in the truck, but the way back was the most entertaining as it was 5 hours standing in the back of the truck with the horses, trying to spot as many marmots as we could. We cooked and ate a marmot later on in the week, didn’t taste like anything I’ve ever tried, a new strange taste.
All the kids were dressed up in colourful outfits for the horse race, and they sang a few songs before they all charged off into the distance. In between the horses setting off and coming back, there were some wrestling matches. It was funny because the big men who took part were also wearing tiny, colourful outfits. On the way back we travelled in convoy and we would stop to sit in a circle and have a drink just before and after we crossed a river, it was unbelievable how many times we stopped.
I was also with the nomads on the 1st of June, which is ‘Mother and child’s day’ so loads of young people came from Ulaanbaatar to celebrate with their families. This is when we made a BBQ with very hot stones, goat and onions. They eat a lot of goat, practically with every meal. A lot of gifts were brought from the capitol like tobacco, juice, cake and sweets! They eat so many sweets!
I played a lot of basketball with all the children that lived near me. I kept thinking the desert was a great place for the kids because it was like their own huge garden. We played a lot of games in the dirt/sand, with bones and pieces of wood, and I went horse riding a lot with one of the 13 year olds who was always keen to horse ride. We would usually take the horses to the river to let them drink or we would go and heard up the sheep and goats, which was cool.
The hardest thing about horse riding in Mongolia is the wooden saddles. The wooden saddles gave me bruises on my legs but after a few rides I was used to it and it wasn’t a problem. I went walking a lot, up into the mountains and down along the river. The view from the top of the mountains was heavenly, and we came across a huge vulture’s nest, which was pretty cool to see. You were able to shout and hear your echo so clearly and you were able to see for miles upon miles, the view really reminded me of an old western movie set.
I tried milking the cows and goats a couple of times and I found milking the cows a lot easier, but I was still no way as good as the women, it’s a lot harder than it looks. One day we all went down to the river, my family and me and another family who lived 100m away from us, to shear the sheep. It was one of the hottest days there so it was impossible not to end up in the river. I helped with the herding up of the sheep, but I left the shearing to the pros, while the 3 children and I played in the river.
A month went by so quickly
When I show my pictures to friends and family none of them can believe that I was simply in a desert for a month, but they don’t know what kind of people I was living with. My host family must have been the loveliest family there. The host mother was forever making sure I wasn’t hungry, and she would always pile my hands up with sweets and biscuits, much more than I needed. My family and I spent a lot of time laughing, I don’t know how but we both managed to understand one another to get along.
Their friends were always friendly too, I’ll always remember one man who constantly had a piece of gum in his ear, which I guess he saved for later, he was the first one to let me ride his horse. I kept a diary whilst out there and I managed to write it every day so I’m looking forward to reading it again soon because it’ll remind me of all the people I met and strange and funny experiences I had. I really loved my Mongolian family and I wish I could see them again.