Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Charlie Creates a Movement in the Caucasus Mountains

Charlie, enjoying a quiet moment in our hotel, Shatili Tower.
In his excellent TedTalk on creating a movement, Derek Sivers illustrates how a ‘lone nut,’ in this case a crazy dancing guy at an outdoor concert, can become the leader of a movement. In the video, a man starts out dancing wildly on his own, but soon finds himself in the middle of an ecstatic crowd mimicking his moves. 

I often showed this video when lecturing on social action in my Introduction to Sociology class. On a visit to the Republic of Georgia, I got to see this process in real life.  I watched my friend Charlie, a community newspaper writer and editor from a small town in New Hampshire, create a movement. From a 'lone nut' moving rocks by hand on a washed-out mountain road, Charlie became a leader. Stranded but newly motivated strangers followed his lead, bent down alongside him, and moved rocks by hand. In the end, stone-by-stone, we all got home. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Up Close and Personal with Ancient Mongolia


Above, petroglyphs at Nukhen Utug, Mankhan soum, Khovd province. 

When traveling through historical sights in the US, we are accustomed to being fenced off, roped off and warned ('don't touch!') lest we break, ruin or somehow deface places and things of value. Rightly so, the past can at times be fragile and should be protected. That being said, it is somewhat thrilling to encounter ancient rock art and hand-carved monuments bereft of fences, ropes and signs. Indeed, they are just out there in the open, available for photos and moments of quiet contemplation about how these thousands years old objects came to be. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Corawill Returns to Vratsa



In August, Corawill had their largest group of volunteers ever volunteering in Vratsa, Bulgaria. The 23 volunteers included students from Western Connecticut State University's (WCSU) Creativity and Compassion Club and Danbury High School (DHS). This year, two volunteers were on their third trip with Corawill to Bulgaria. We were joined by a wonderful group of Bulgarian volunteer translators. Our activities centered on two social homes, one for special needs children.

The activities included games, sports, 'magic sand,' painting and puzzles. The students from WCSU also shared aspects of their traditional backgrounds, with one volunteer showing everyone how to wrap and rock an India sari. We all played endless rounds of UNO and the matching game and had a blast with a Mexican piñata. We also made s'mores and American pancakes with fruit. Our painters put a shiny new coat of chocolate brown on the fence that surrounds the faciltiy and we ended the week completing hand-prints with biographical poems translated in English and Bulgarian so that we call all learn about each other. The highlight for everyone seemed to be our two trips to the community pool with an ice cream treat. The volunteers also took the children to the Ledenika Caves where everyone enjoyed the light show. It was cold inside! The final day ended with our traditional pizza party and music.

Many new friendships were formed. Many volunteers expressed interest in returning next year. See you then!


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Road Trip Mongolia


  1. On the way to Ulgii from Murun.

    road
    rōd/
    1. noun
      1. 1. 
        a wide way leading from one place to another, especially one with a specially prepared surface that vehicles can use.
      2. 2. 
        a series of events or a course of action that will lead to a particular outcome.




    For people used to car travel in the US and Europe, a holiday road trip in Mongolia could present a journey in semantics: for example, what is a road? On a recent SUV journey across Mongolia, we found that from Murun to Ulgii just 70 of the 1500 kilometers is paved. Or, for those of us who regularly travel interstate highways in the US, what is a road-side restaurant? In that vein, what is lunch? or a toilet? Traffic jams can be quite different in the Mongolian countryside, and they may not include cars. As the saying goes, "it's the journey, not the destination that counts." 

    In total, my partner and I, along with our guide Chimeg and driver Baysaa, covered 5500 kilometers on our vacation. We traveled from Ulaanbataar to Murun, on to Tsagaannuur where we jumped on the horses to visit the Dukha reindeer herders, back to Murun, continuing to Ulgii and finally to returning to Ulaanbataar through Altai and the Gobi. 

    From forested taiga in the north to the snow covered high peaks and glaciers of the west to the desert like 'mini-Gobi' in the middle, it was a great adventure. And along the way we learned new social-cultural meanings surrounding the semantics of cross-country road travel in Mongolia. I would also add the term 'luxury travel' to this list. No five-star hotels, swimming pools or Michelin starred restaurants were to be found for us outside the capital, but the peace and quiet of the countryside, the amazing star filled nights, the endless blue day sky, myriad flowers, birds and domesticated beasts, and the wonderful hospitality of the Mongolian people was indeed luxurious, serene, and yes, priceless.

    Before you travel
    Unless you are a professional mechanic, speak fluent Mongolian, and know how to find your way around this country on unmarked roads, do not attempt this type of travel without an excellent guide and driver. Many thanks to Chimeg, founder of Classic Journeys Mongolia, and to Baysaa and his trusty 1997 Toyota Land Cruiser for our adventure. 


Thursday, June 23, 2016

In the Land of Blue Sky

White Lake, Tsagaan Nuur. This is the only boat I saw on the lake.  I learned that tourists do come to fish, though I didn't see any other vessels during my stay.
Our visit to the Dukha reindeer herders in northern Mongolia began and ended in Tsagaan Nuur sum. After an 11 hour ride in a Russian Furgon van we checked into our guest house. The road was unpaved and we crossed over small rivers and streams, passed herds of yak, cattle, sheep, horses and goats. We saw occasional gers and people on horseback going to or coming from either Murun or Tsagaan Nuur. There was a stop for lunch at a ger canteen in Toom and a quick visit to a friend in Ulaan Uul.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Views from the Taiga with Nomadicare



Crowded into our urts watching 'Migration.'

Our all female Team Nomadicare left Tsagaan Nuur for the east taiga on June 1. A Russian made Furgon van delivered us with our gear to Hogrog where our horses and wranglers were waiting. Once at the reindeer herders' camp, we moved into our accommodations, three people in a tourist urts (Siberian tipi) and two in tents. The next day, we arranged visits with the reindeer herders where we distributed hygiene kits to every family and updated our database. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life and Art: Young Reindeer Herders in Mongolia


In the north of Mongolia, not too far from Russia, I just completed a small research study on tourism among the nomadic Dukha reindeer herders of the East and West taiga. This community moves four or more times a year taking their animals to fresh pasture. When not interviewing their parents, my interpreter, Chuka, and I also did some 'day in the life' drawings with the children. I had brought colored markers and paper. I've conducted this exercise in many countries with children throughout the world: kids on Fogo Island in Cape Verde drew volcanoes; children in India their villages in the countryside and their families; in Bulgaria they drew photos of the sports activities they enjoyed, pizza, flowers and friends.