Trip to Mongolia
Rinpoche, the Director and some of the staff of the Centre (Asral NGO) left this morning for Ondurschill after much preparation. Unfortunately, been unwell, I am unable to travel, and so remain behind in the quietness of the Centre. Children still playing outside, cool but very sunny, although wind and rain forecast in the next day or so. Rain always welcome here.
There is great energy around Rinpoche, everywhere he goes. The preparations this morning and last night were extensive, the drivers, cars, food for the journey, bedding, warm clothes, medicines, hot water bottles, cutlery and containers, camera and phone. The road is good until you get to Choer, about four hours south of Ulaanbaatar City, where we normally stop for lunch.
Choer looks like the last outpost of the Soviet regime, huge, empty 70s style block like buildings standing surreally in the middle of nowhere; the leftover of a Soviet military installation. The road finishes and then it's onto the rough undulating tracks, where the jeep begins to feel like you are in a washing machine cycle, on and on through the desert for hours and hours.
Eventually you see Ondurschill in the distance, and it feels a bit like you're a cowboy riding into town in a Western, into another century, except it is the twenty-first century. What you see is a derelict ex commune, set up by the former Communist Government, which took herders away from a nomadic tradition that had been there for generations, to service an industrial type wool factory. A manufactured community, which was fine as long as the Soviets were supporting it, bringing full employment, education, health care and schools for the best part of a century. It wasn't sustainable unfortunately, as it was
MIM (Made In Mongolia) website:
It wasn’t sustainable unfortunately, as it was propped up financially by the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union collapsed, the communes collapsed, and places like Ondurschill all over Mongolia collapsed with it, almost overnight, leaving behind a devastated community in the middle of nowhere with nothing to support it or to keep it going. The infrastructure fell apart, the centrally controlled heating systems, schools, hospitals etc all broke down and now lie dilapidated, the entire place like an abandoned leftover town from some gold-digging boom in the American West; it is exposed, windy and dusty, hot, bleak, full of limping or barking dogs, a few noisy motorcycles, with the worst poverty I have seen anywhere. People living in rough shacks and tired gers that are falling apart with age, the felt broken, the covers disintegrating, hardly any employment, infrastructure or facilities. The water is over-mineralised, causing all kinds of heath problems.
Many years ago an old lama who was living in Ondurschill travelled to UB to see Rinpoche and asked him to help. Rinpoche travelled the eight hour journey to Ondurschill and has been making the same arduous, unrelenting journey every year since. In that time, bit by bit, Asral set up a hot-meal project for children, a social welfare support system, a well and purification system with solar powered energy, it supplied equipment and volunteers for the local school, built a maternity wing to the local hospital, helped bye ElectricAid Ireland, and supplied it with physiotherapy equipment; opened a small centre which initiated training projects for women, which led to MIM, (all the MIM slippers are made here, in a little space, giving employment to eight women and one man). The well, and importantly the purification system, with funds partially raised in Irish primary schools, is the first of its kind in Mongolia, now providing pure clear water that has reduced the level of sickness generally in the village.
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Frank Conway is a theatre and film designer and teacher, who occasionally directs, writes and makes art. He travels to Mongolia regularly, and is interested in meditation.