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Mother in Mongolia Daughter in Mongolia Daughter and Lamb Minor in Mongolia

Rough Cut
Mongolia: Land Without Fences
A nomad's hard choice
 

 

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Length: 7:40

Casey Beck

Casey Beck is a graduating senior at Tufts University, where she majored in Peace and Justice Studies. This is Beck's first report for FRONTLINE/World and she worked as an intern at the FRONTLINE offices in Boston last year. She has been active at Tufts and abroad as a photojournalism student and filmmaker, working most recently in Kenya and Mongolia. Beck plans to spend the summer in Kiribati, an archipelago nation in the Pacific, where she will create a photo and video archive for residents of these islands, which are sinking due to rising sea levels.

The spring of my junior year in college, I went to Mongolia anticipating little more than being bitterly cold. While the weather lived up to my expectations, I also encountered a culture so rich and a people so strong they exceeded anything I imagined.

Half of Mongolia's two million population still practice the ancient tradition of nomadic herding. Families have kept these herds -- mostly goats, sheep, and horses -- for generations, and parents often bequeath hundreds of animals to their children.

Through my study-abroad program, I found myself living and working with such families, experiencing their grueling lives for a few weeks at a time.

Nomadic Mongolians devote most of their waking hours to tending to their animals. Visiting in spring, I helped with all the daily chores; combing the goats for their prized cashmere, milking them for food, and helping to bring newborns into the world. The animals are central to survival here; not just for the livelihood they provide but for something as basic as food. Each night, I sat down to a supper of gritty meat stew -- sometimes goat, sometimes camel or lamb -- and marveled at the peace with which my new friends live their lives.

Yet internal and external forces threaten the nomadic lifestyle -- something I wanted to capture in my story. Herding families keep hundreds of animals, but there is not always sufficient nourishment from the land to support them. Western influences have also infiltrated the nomadic existence. Satellite television has spread across this desolate plateau and some nomads have swapped horses for motorcycles to get around.

But in recent years, it's an unforgiving climate that has most threatened the herding way of life. A devastating winter storm in 2001 killed millions of animals nationwide, leaving thousands of herders destitute. With few professional skills, many herders took up artisanal mining, working depleted industrial mining sites with picks, shovels and pans. I spent long days with these small mining teams, sifting through sun-baked rubble hoping to find a few specks of gold. A few miners have begun new herds with their mining income, while others have left herding for good.

Many families are torn between the love of their herding traditions and the necessities of survival. Such is the story of my host, Erdenchimeg.

Casey Beck

REACTIONS

Kalli Shropshire - Thronton, CO
I think this is something to think about. Think of the luxury we have and what they have. This is a real eye opener.

Lavee Ravee - atlanta, ga
Very interesting and sad.

(anonymous)
It was a very excellent documentary and a wonderful Story.

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Yeah, this is another face of today's Mongolian nomadic life.

Allen, Texas
This video is very interesting in that it really shows how the world has become smaller. Even these nomads have microwaves, phones, etcetera, and they still persist with the lifestyle their ancestors used for centuries. It evokes feelings of sadness as well as joy in that although these nomads must break up their old ways of life to afford living and school costs they still, somehow, manage to maintain these ancient ways. These ancient ways have not been completely destroyed by modern society, as some fear will happen to the Native American way of life.

(anonymous)
A very hippie like perspective on life in Mongolian countryside. It shows nomadic life as too idyllic, with the fresh air, clean water and being close to nature. These people would have long ago abandoned this sort of lifestyle if they had the option to move to the city. Please look at life in poor countries in real terms, not life as you would like to seem.

Nancy Dock - Syracuse, NY
Outstanding job, Casey. Photography, narrative and music are beautifully matched enhancing the report. Looking forward to more of your work.

Casey Jackson - Naples, Florida
You did a wonderful job with this, Casey!

Debbie Airey - Vilas, North Carolina
Casey- you have always been an amazing communicator, even at a young age!! Thank you for transporting me to a land and people's lives through your documentary...Let me know how I can help-Deb

Carly Shearer - Naples, FL
What a professional, informative documentary! It was great learning about what you were really up to during that semester in Mongolia. I would have never learned about those people's lives without your report.

Susan Drinker - Exeter, NH
Casey! What a terrific job! Loved seeing the finished product. WOW!

Alonso Nichols - Medford, MA
Casey! Great work! You transport me to the place and the issues that are transforming this way of life. What's next?

Emily Bruce - poughkeepsie, NY
looks wonderful casey! i still miss the stars and the countryside (although not the food i have to say:) have fun this summer!

Ginny Sednek - Kersey, CO
It was beautiful to see a place where they live with the land and their herds!

Saqib Amin - Houston, Texas
Excellent job! Documentaries like these help me appreciate how much we have in United States.

Jessica Jones - San Diego, CA
Very interesting story, great report!

Terri Dykstra - Hudsonville, Michigan
Very well done ... wonderful story. Looking forward to hearing more about your work in Kiribati.

sohil maknojia - santa barbara, ca
Stories like these always help keep life in perspective. Thanks for reporting.

(anonymous)
AMAZING!