Anya Gupta - Nomad Project in Mongolia
The choice to go to Mongolia was quite a surprise for many of my friends, teachers, and of course my parents. I was watching an Animal Planet episode and it was describing a fishing expedition someone had made to Mongolia to catch a "Taimen". I had never been exposed to this incredible culture before, and when I read up about it, it totally captivated me. The simplicity of the culture and the dynamics between nature and the people were something that I truly admired. Living in Silicon Valley, the hustle and bustle of everyday life just takes away from the everyday things we should never take for granted. Being out in the Mongolian countryside was something that appealed to me, as it would allow me to get to know myself and just be in a peaceful state. I worked for a year in order to pay for half of my trip, since it was something I dreamed to do. Upon the arrival to the country, my project supervisor made sure to put every ounce of her energy into making us feel welcome. After giving us a tour of Peace Avenue, the state department store, and local eateries, we stayed a night at the Wonder Mongolia guesthouse while anxiously awaiting the next day. We then drove out to the countryside the next morning and met our host family.
My host family
My host family lived in a gher which is incredible. They put so much detail into the interior of their home. From hand-painted cabinets, intricate embroidery art around the interior, and the handmade ropes hanging from the ceiling, everything embodied the rich culture of Mongolia. Upon coming into their home, we were offered tea and biscuits, from a brand new package that they had opened. Their homemade tea was salty, not sweet like Western teas. The most beautiful memory I have of the family is how open they were to having us stay with them. Although I knew beforehand that they had been hosting people for a while, they were so intimate and interested in our culture. They even gave us their beds and they slept on the floor. They gave us the best of everything they had, the best utensils, bed, food, and more. It is something I will never forget.
My Nomad Project
There were lots of things to do on the project. On the first day, we were to get water. Walking away from the ghers, we found a small pit in the ground, with a metal drum within. Because it was summer, the water level was low which is typical of a dry summer. The groundwater well had a thin filament of dust, with pebbles littering the bottle. We were to fill up two buckets and a large gasoline container as well. We got down on our knees, and reached into the water, with a small pail. Our host siblings did it so quickly but we took a little longer. Coming back into the gher after getting water, we gave small gifts to our family. I gave my host father a flashlight, and he loved it. He does not know much English, but the expression on his face was timeless. I also gave the family a photo book of California. They knew about San Francisco! I thought that was so incredible. In the evening we would teach our family how to play cards and play games. This was a challenge since they didn’t speak a lot of English but we were able to get through a few games. It was amazing to see how their English had developed so rapidly just through games and constant communication. The welcoming nature of the family made me feel right at home on the first day. I regret not being there for longer.
As a keen environmentalist, I really loved to see the environmental impacts of being a nomad. To see how precious their water is, and how little of it is present in the summertime makes you really appreciate the things we take for granted in the United States. Because on the steppe there is no running water, the groundwater is all that can be used for bathing and cooking and must be rationed. Therefore, nomads only bathe once or twice every month. In my opinion, this is so beautiful. Sustainability for the environment is something that is not stressed enough in the United States. I was only in the Nomad Project for one week, but if I could have, I would have stayed there for at least 2 months. Many people think that the lack of showering is tough but honestly, it is not that bad. It makes you appreciate the little things once you get back. Everything is so organic, that you are never truly "dirty". In addition, it was so interesting to see how every part of the animal is used. So many large factory farms here process meat in a way where much of the animal is put to waste. In Mongolian culture, all parts of the animal are either given to the dogs or eaten. Even the hide is tanned to make bridles! Nomads have so little material wealth and their animals and families as their most prized possessions. Nomadic people’s open nature, appreciative attitude, and wonderful hospitality has made getting to my host family one of the most incredible things I have experienced. Life is incredible and I am glad I was destined to meet all these people.