Monday, September 10, 2012

Sustainable Livelihoods - Sustainable Friendships

Naran 4 months old, June 2012
When I think of Mongolia I think of vast open space, the bright colors inside a Ger, the dust and heat and interminable jarring of jeep travel across the Gobi desert. I also think of the smiling faces of our friends, Ene and Aza and the video Mike took of their daughter, Naran, on his trip to Mongolia this past June. In the video, Mike and Naran (which means sun) are in the dining room of Ene and Aza's new home outside the capital of Ulan Batar. I can hear Ene and Aza talking in a room nearby. I feast my eyes on the images of Naran who I haven't seen before, but it is Mike's voice, whispering and cajoling, making the funny sounds grown-ups make to get babies to laugh and smile, that captures my heart. As I watch little Naran's hand grab onto Mike's enormous finger, her sparkling eyes and the gurgle of laughter that spills from her round face, I'm reminded of the precious nature of friendships across the world. 

Arkhangai Province, Mongolia, 2006

In June, Mike was hired to work on Phase III of the Sustainable Livelihoods Project. He first met Aza while working on Phase I in 2006. That year, Mike spent two months travelling the country and learning about the livestock production methods and products of herder households. He was part of an international team sharing information about management tools and market opportunities that herder groups could use to improve their standard of living and the health of the rangelands they rely on. Aza was just 22 years old, and working in the SLP office in Ulan Batar.

Aza and Ene, dominos at Magpie Ranch, 2010
Three years later, Aza applied to graduate school in the US and Mike wrote a letter of recommendation. Before long, we heard that Aza and his fiance had arrived in California, crammed into the apartment of a distant relative while discovering how difficult and expensive it is to find housing is in San Francisco. By spring of 2010, they were ready for a much-needed trip away from studies in the big city. They borrowed a car and drove north to Wallowa County and the Magpie Ranch. They joined in fixing fence and herding cattle, with evenings of games, good meals, storytelling and toasting. 

Mike and Aza fencing

Ene on KP at the ranch
Over the next four years, Mike will be making the long journey to Mongolia on a regular basis. He will see Naran grow into a toddler and then an adventurous little girl. The unfolding lives of Ene and Aza will remind us of our own children and grandchildren. The goals of the sustainable livelihood project will also remind us of  our work at home. Though the landscapes are different, as part of a pastoral system, we share common ties to the land and face the common challenge of adapting to a changing world. We seek profitable markets for our products and strive for the knowledge, skills and relationships needed to sustain both our way of life and the natural systems that we are a part of.

Just like we rely on our neighbors here in Wallowa County to help us out when we need it, I take comfort in knowing that on the other side of the world, Mike has friends to call on.  Whether, stranded, sick or just wanting someone to share a song or story with, I'll know he's in good hands.
Sara, Mike, Ene, Aza