Mo Strangeman in 2006
“Joining Byamba’s project in Mandalgobi gave me a unique chance to share in the life of Mongolia. I quickly learned how passionate and committed she is to achieving the growth of vital vegetation in the driest of areas. By hand, hoe, bucket and hose, she and her local helpers gather seeds, plant and nurture the various types of hardy and locally suitable trees and bushes, nurturing them daily. Arriving by truck, water supplies are precious, erratic and expensive. I see in my mind’s eye Byamba in the evening sun, holding the Nursery’s hose aloft to drain out the last drops into a nearby sapling’s trench.
It also takes long tractor drives and a great deal of work to transplant them where they are most needed, setting them next to more established ones to provide protection and help hold the sandy terrain against desertification. I could see how, after some years of growth, huge tracts of land are now alive and green and why the project aims to continue to do this over numerous hectares annually.
The dry climate and harsh winters make it a real challenge but Byamba has developed this successful project from her agricultural training, experience and her own personal drive. The fun and laughter we had alongside it all was as liberating as the fulfilling of one of my long-held dreams – to stay in traditional gers, (sheep’s wool–felt roofed houses), ‘white pearls’ set within the huge and magnificent Mongolian landscape. The hospitality all hardworking herdsmen and their families always give so readily and naturally while travelling long distances across steppe and desert touched me every time. Their meaty and dairy diet takes some adjusting to but after supper we’d be outside singing traditional songs together under vast domes of sky bejewelled with stars, from the pole star to the ‘all but touchable’ ones right down on the horizon. Around us were their herds of camels, horses, sheep and goats, often joining in with their own vocals and I loved the very special closeness all of this brought within the enormous space of land and sky that is Mongolia.
I discovered a country and people whose path through life is treasurable with deep down ancient sharing ways and Tibetan Buddhist traditions embedded in its still horse-led culture. Amid everyone’s hard work the numerous local and regional Naadams (festivals) are opportunities for colour and enjoyment through gathering together and a myriad of competitions – thrilling horsemanship, youngsters included, plus wrestling, archery, traditional throat-singing, airag ( horse mare’s milk) drinking until bursting point, dancing and children’s games using sheep’s ankle bones. To see the pride of the most skilled and the best-dressed horsemen was to witness something special – that a deep sense of belonging to the land is still motivating their life. What I also knew was to support conserving that land and therefore that life had become my own delight. ‘Bayarlalaa’ Byamba – thank you, may the project and the land continue to thrive.”