In brief, two -apparently well known- people went for a 2 weeks adventure. They weren't told where in the world they would be going except that it would be a very isolated place where people only lived with life's bare necessities. No other indication was given to them. They arrived at the airport blindfolded and with headphones on so that they wouldn't see or hear where their destination was until the plane had departed. How exciting it must have been! *eek*
Once the plane left, they were told about their destination and who the people/ethnic group they will be staying with are. In this case, they were going to Mongolia to stay with a family who raised camels as their livelihood. Here are some new things I learnt:
I learnt that Mongolia is apparently one of the least densely populated country in the world with only 2million inhabitants. The country is mainly open lands, mountains and huge deserts. Temperatures are extremely cold in the winter (-50 degrees) and extremely hot in the summer (50 degrees Celsius). I also learnt that due to climate change more and more Mongolians who had been farmers or cattle raisers (shepherds) and lived a nomadic lifestyle for generations are now forced to move to the suburbs of cities. Desertification means that their cattle can't get fat enough for them to financially benefit and sustain themselves through it.
So, the two westerners arrived literally in the middle of nowhere. It wasn't even a village. The family lived in a yurt (google a mongolian yurt to see a picture if you don't know what that looks like). A yurt doesn't have rooms or compartments; it's just one large circle space. The family used different corners for different activities: one side for the kitchen area (which really is just a fire place), one side for the sitting area (just a mattress to sit on) and at night, they would all bring out their mattresses and sleep in the centre. I loved how they all slept together and chatted as they fell asleep; it was touching. I find so sad that today, in our modern family dynamics, we can't or don't find the time to chat for long with our loved ones. Everyone is hooked on their smartphones and even though everyone could be in the same room, no one is actually together. The parents are on their phones and so are the kids. If someone tries to attempt a conversation, it's not really successful because minds and hearts are not present. So so sad.
The father or family man is a camel owner. If you didn't know, my favourite animal is the camel and it is one of my most precious dream to own a camel one day (a baby she-camel to be precise) inshAllah. So, I felt like this episode was picked just for me. The man had such a shining face, a beaming smile. I was amazed at how sparkling white their teeth were and how physically fit they all seemed to be even in -25 degrees. The man was asked why he chose to have camels since they're not as a good investment as sheep are. He said that between the camels and him is a love story and that they teach him so much. He said that camels are soft animals and will not obey unless you are kind and soft towards them. They feel your nervousness and anger and will replicate that. He said that thanks to his camels, he became a much calmer person. I found that to be so beautiful. When you start allowing yourself to learn from others and even learn life lessons from the animals, just know that you've just reach an awesome level. Beautiful mindset. I want to be that kind of person too, who takes lessons and reminders from the whole world.. animals, humans, plants.. there are signs and lessons in everything, if only we allowed ourselves to be open minded.
I don't know what touched me the most. Their simplicity, their minimalism, their happiness despite the little they owned, their pride (positive pride), their mentality. In hostile environments like the one in which they live, you will not go far unless you work together as a unit with all members of the family. I loved that. Sadly, in today's modern individualistic world.. it's every man for himself. The notion of family and unity is slowly disintegrating, even in Muslim households.
In order to heat the yurt, they pick up camel stool (poop) and burn it. I had no idea this was something that was done. What a majestic animal! Even its stool can be used to provide heat, just amazing! Maybe you're wondering what kind of camel can resist to -50 degrees.. but the kind that this family owned were the mountain camels. They're much hairier than the 'regular' camels but just as gorgeous.
The Mongolian couple was asked how they met and with so much modesty and shyness, the man said that he fell for his wife at the first sight and proposed to her immediately. She asked him to give her 10 days to reflect (she also said that she wasn't interested by him at first). He returned (and he lived far from her area) after 10 days and she accepted. She said that the fact he returned a second time just for her made him look so handsome and special to her. Even their story is beautiful. You know these people who live very differently than the rest of us have incredible shyness even if they're non-Muslims. The man was asked what he liked most about his wife and he said 'I don't like telling other people about my wife's qualities, in case someone tries to steal her off me'. Quirky but smart way to protect what is most precious to him.
The kids worked hard to help out and you could see the amount of respect and admiration they held for their parents. Again, what a stark comparison with how 21st century kids look at their parents! Most believe that they are smarter, better ect. than their parents. Parental respect is heavily undermined nowadays. Kids nowadays are spoiled brats and we are responsible for creating a generation that is hooked on electronics from birth, literally. We don't take the time and effort to inculcate values and teach them basic things that will help them in life. I don't want to generalise everyone but that's definitely the majority. I've always thought that if I have kids inshAllah, I would like to live in the countryside or in a small village. I believe that such an environment is beneficial for children to develop themselves, to grow confident, to be outdoors. I feel so sorry for kids who stay indoors, inactive all day long. Anyway, I'm going on a tangent.. back to Mongolia.
The father was a true family man. He is in the one charge and the only responsible for the welfare of his family and cattle. He has to make the right decisions for the well-being of everyone. He has to make the call for when to move and pack everything in the spring time. He has to make sure all his animals are present and think about how to facilitate cattle reproduction. A very hands-on man yet he said at one point 'we all learn from each other' and praised his wife.
I would love to experience a life like theirs. The older I get, the more I desire a modest and simple life. City life doesn't interest me. The ideal for me would be to live away in an open field but with a quick reach to a city or town -just in case you know?. These folks live in the present. They don't have a watch that they constantly look at, thinking where they have to be next. Every moment is taken and appreciate as it comes. I loved how healthy they were, with no cars or other means of transportation, they only relied on their two feet and their camels to move around. The food they ate was free from all the mess we eat (like that pizza *oops*), no colourants, no preservatives and it definitely reflected on their faces, their teeth and their bodies. I dream of being able to live off organic food that would be coming straight from my farm. I hope this dream becomes true.
After the program, I was so inspired. I started imagining my life in a rural environment with only the bare essentials. I think I would handle it quite well. My mind was buzzing. I tried to imagine what it would be like it I left everything now and just lived in the desert, minding my life, owning camels, having a family, worshipping God and that's it. With the way the world is going, that's not even a bad idea. You know, I feel that most of us see life in one way.. we think there's only one way to live life because that's all we know right? But there are many lifestyles out there, and perhaps the western lifestyle isn't the most suited one for our needs. I feel like I would be most fulfilled and happiest in a more down-to-earth (in the literal sense) lifestyle.
I remember about 2 years ago, my father and I were on our way to Makkah and I had my dinner with me. I got hungry and I didn't want to mess up everything inside the car (pasto, suugo iyo hilib) so I asked my father if we could stop by the road (if your know the highway between Jeddah and Makkah then you've seen the desert before you reach the mountains). I wanted to eat in the desert and have that experience so we stopped. It was night-time and the stars were out for show. My dad had already eaten so he stayed in the car. Again, this is something that happens regularly in Saudi.. people will stop by the highway or road, sit behind the car so that your back is facing the traffic and eat, chat, chill. I sat and ate my food and I was so happy with my surroundings. I loved feeling the sand underneath me (not so much when I got sand in my food but hey), I love eating with my fingers, no cutlery, no plate, no table, no chair. Just simplicity. I then washed my hands with some water and we continued our journey. It may seem so basic but this was a highlight for me. I loved the feeling I got for that moment.
This program just reminded me of my dreams. My dream of owning a camel. My dream of having a close-knit family. My dream of learning lesson from everything in my environment. My dream of seeking happiness from within. My dream of living away from modern consumer lifestyle. My dream of eating fresh, organic food of my own produce. My dream of living minimalistically. My dream of having children in an environment that will allow them to grow maturely and safely. My dream of always living in the moment, of appreciating every minute as it comes. My dream of simplicity.
It was a good night. Alhamdulilah.