Jugderdem’s backyard

November 7, 2011

By Carlos Barria

Two-year-old Jugderdem Myagmarsuren opens the door of his tent to play with his plastic scooter in the backyard. He is accompanied by sheep and cows. This is not an ordinary backyard. It’s the Mongolian steppe, and his closest friends might live more than two kms (1.2 miles) away.

While the world’s population reached 7 billion on October 31st, 2011, Mongolia remains the least densely populated country on the planet, with 2.7 million people spread across an area three times the size of France. Two-fifths of Mongolians live in rural areas spread over wind swept steppes.

According to the National Population Center census of 2010, Mongolia’s population density increased by only 0.2 percentage points– to 1.7 persons per square kilometer—from the last census in 2000.

In Shivert, 200 kms (124 miles) northeast of the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator, Javzansuren Choijiljav, 72, and his wife Javzanpagma Adiya, 70, shepherd their animals out of a coral ahead of a long day on the steppe. As a nomad family, they are accustomed to packing up and moving their tent four times a year, but as they grow older they spend less time herding their cows and sheep, and more time working around their tent. They have contracted another younger couple to help them with their animals as the winter approaches.

Javzanpagma heats fresh cow milk on the stove. She says it’s harder and harder to find young people interested in working in the countryside because so many have moved to the city.

Every year between 30,000 and 40,000 Mongolians migrate from the far steppes to the fast growing capital Ulan Bator— the country’s most dense city.

Bordering Russia to the north and China to the south, this former satellite state of the former Soviet Union relies on its natural resources as an engine for economic growth. Its gold, copper and coal have attracted foreign investment.

Today more than half of all Mongolians live in the capital, including eight of Javzanpagma’s children, drawn by the promise of a better life. However, unemployment stands at more than 15 percent.

As Javzansuren continues his work (building shelters for his animals and storing potatoes underground where the freezing earth will preserve them) the horizon darkens under gathering clouds, which announce the coming winter. They hope the spring will come quickly so their animals will survive, and they can pack up and move again, continuing the cycle of their nomadic life, even as more and more of their fellow nomads move away for good.

5 comments

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Very nice picture bolg

Posted by Nikhil_Yag | Report as abusive

Beautiful and telling photos. It reminds me that simplicity is still alive. I think cities can be a blessing as well as a problem, so it makes these photos more special because it reminds us we can live simply, so that we remember life in its fullness.
Thanks for the photos.

Posted by QuentinTodd | Report as abusive

Your pictures are so spontaneous. Marvellous!

Ted McDonnell

Posted by Edward2259 | Report as abusive

Great photos and a great and simple way to tell the story. Congrats Carlos!
Lucas
My own photos of China:
http://www.pictobank.com/

Posted by Photoluc | Report as abusive

muy interesante el laburo, carlos. saludos.

Posted by maxifailla | Report as abusive