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. 

Team Nomdicare ready for the taiga.

Many herders commented that they enjoyed Sas's yearly visits and found items in the hygiene kit very useful. Sas checked in with every family asking about news from last year. There were new babies, university graduations and much more. Afterwards, Chuka and I interviewed each family about various aspects of tourism, tourist gifts and the impact of both on their everyday lives. In between, there was much time to talk and generally observe the daily tasks of taking care of the reindeer. 

Sas was also able to screen her films, 'Migration' and 'Ceremony' for the community of people in the film. After their work day ended, around 10PM, the herders came to our ortz for the film. It was very nice and heart warming for everyone to see themselves and/or their friends and relatives on the screen. They were very appreciative that the everyday lifeways of the herders are being documented and that their children will have these images in the future. 

Bringing in the reindeer for the night.

'Migration' documents the move from the spring to summer camp in the west taiga. 'Ceremony' shows details of shamanism, including how shamans receive their calling, among both the Dukha and the Darhad, two minority groups in Hovsgol Province. 

The daily routine of the herders is hard work and requires a symbiotic relationship between the herders and their natural environment. Indeed, the reindeer and the Dukha are interdependent, with the needs of the reindeer shaping Dukha cultural, economic and social patterns. Each morning the reindeer are untied from the logs that keep them safe in the camp overnight and are taken out to pasture. In the evening they are brought back and tied up once again. The males are in one area, the females and baby reindeer in another. Reindeer are usually born at the beginning of May, but during our visits to both east and west taiga camps, we observed new reindeer born (in June). The reindeer are milked for human consumption, used for cheese, curds, yoghurt, and salted milk tea. Mongolians enjoy salted milk tea from many animals.

Sas healing an east taiga herder.

In between tending to the reindeer, many other tasks must be completed. This includes drawing water, cooking meals, baking bread, mending clothes, laundry, carving reindeer antlers for sale to tourists, and fixing tools. We also saw men stretching and softening rawhide with a hand-made 'machine' that required much strength and dexterity! 

Softening the rawhide strips. These are used for harnesses on the horses.
Flour is an important part of the everyday meal, in fact all meals, all day. First, flour mixed with water and sour dough starter is baked in a pot on top of the wood burning stove. This is called talkh. After the bread has been mostly cooked through, it is taken out of the pot, flipped and put back to bake the top that is now the bottom! This bread is cut into slices. There are also 'noodles' made from a rolled out flat bread - somewhat like a chapati - flash cooked on top of the stove, sliced into long noodle shapes and steamed with re-hydrated mutton. My favorite is boortsog, small balls or knots of deep fried bread. This was sometimes coated in a very small amount of sugar. Another kind of bread is gambir, sort of a cross between a pancake and a croissant; is my other favorite, especially for breakfast.

All of this hard work can produce aches and pains. Sas did energy healing when asked. In the west, there was a visit nearly every night at 11PM from one older herder, mother of six, who struggles to walk but rides a reindeer with ease.

During our stay two separate tourist groups arrived, a French couple with a guide and three men from Singapore. They had a guide and a cook as well. They were traveling on a three-week tour with a large, well-established tourist agency. The French couple stayed in a tourist ortz while the Singapore travelers set up camp in the forest, a bit away from the herders urts. Needless, to say, observations and interviews with these tourists will be part of my research. More will said about that in another post.

Overall, it is clear that the reindeer herders welcome Nomadicare's yearly visits. Sas has been coming to Mongolia for 22 years so her commitment to documenting and representing the lifestyle of the reindeer herders is clearly true and heartfelt. One elderly herder from the west taiga asked Sas if she could come back and stay for the entire summer next year. She'll think about it!

Chilling out in the urts, East taiga.

A photo with a couple of my favorite interviewees.

Updating the data base and sorting the hygiene kits.
Reindeer, tied down for the night.

Time to milk the reindeer.

A visitor!

Milk tea simmering in the ger on the steppe, before our trip..

Fresh fish from the lake cooked directly on the stove, west taiga.
Getting ready for migration to the summer camp, west taiga.

Sumiya, Sukhe, Battulga, Bazara. Sugar and Lkhagva, our wranglers, at the end of our trip. Thank you.

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