Mongolia was, for me, what Pico Iyer refers to as a “secret home”. A place you spend your whole life dreaming about, and that you finally recognise once you see. As soon as we drove out into that wild, open steppe, I felt my soul settle, my breath slow, my heart open. And when we arrived at our nomadic encampment in a quiet, bucolic nook of the Orkhon Valley, where we spent two nights with a nomadic family, I felt that this was it, the way of life I had been searching for. I learnt some very important lessons from the nomads, that I know I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.
All we need is the air that we breathe
The nomads reminded me how little in life you need to be happy. The mother and father and their two small children all lived in a tiny ger (the Mongolian version of a yurt) about four metres wide, all four of them sleeping on two single beds. They had a small chest of drawers for all of their clothes, a central wood fire for warmth, and a little shrine. Nature provided them with everything else.
We can live in harmony with our environment
Watching the nomads take only what they needed from the earth, and using it in a way that meant nothing went to waste, showed me that they see themselves as just one species in this greater web of life. A goat was slaughtered for our feast but no piece of it went to waste – the skin would be used as a pelt, the offal that hung in the yurt eaten at a later date. The milk from their mares was used to make their airag alcohol, cheese, cream and butter. Small solar panels were used for the little electricity they needed, and a bit of water from the river for washing. If only we could all have such a sustainable way of living with our environment.
Home can be found in the movement between places
Our society has become so blinded by the need to find a “home”, to toil away in jobs we don’t love to nail down a place to call our own, often at the expense of true happiness and freedom. For the nomads, movement is the home. When one location ceases to be right for the climate, or the earth is not providing them with what they need, they can dismantle their ger, pack it on the back of their yaks, and simply find another place to rest. I’m aware that this lifestyle also has its pitfalls, and that the nomads in many ways live a tough, hardened life, but the fact that it is so free from shackles is very inspiring.
Good things will come if we wait
How beautiful it was to watch the mother spend five hours patiently sewing her baby a tiny deel to wear. To witness the women spending an hour herding their horses together of a morning for milking, and the men happily chopping wood for hours on end to keep their family warm. Coming from our world of instant gratification, it was so refreshing to see people waiting for what they wanted.
Openness is nothing to be afraid of
In the nomadic world there are no fences, no boundaries. This makes the people very open: they don’t have the same suspicions we have, largely because they rely on the kindness of strangers to get through their long, harsh winters. As we sat by the roaring bonfire one evening, playing games and singing songs for each other despite the fact that we didn’t share a common language, I realised how important it is in life to cast aside quick judgements, and to be open to making connections with people vastly different from ourselves. How much we might miss out on if we don’t.
I travelled courtesy of FRUI creative holidays.