Wild places and the people who inhabit them have fascinated me for much of my life. My early mountaineering adventures took me to high places and open vistas, from the Alps to Patagonia. But it was a horse back journey across the remote Altai Mountains in Mongolia that revealed a people and a landscape that I had not experienced before.
For more than 6 years I have been making visits to this strange and wonderful land. On my first journey I came across two Gers and an outhouse constructed of timber and mud. There was little grass, few trees, and mountains and snow. I was in the middle of nowhere.
It was then that an old woman and a young child came into view. From the dishevelled look, the plaintive gaze, and uncoordinated walk, I assumed the young girl had a learning disability. I took the older woman to be her grandmother. Each seemed to need the other.
The grandmother needed a role and that was to take care of her disabled grandchild. The child needed her grandmother to keep safe and help her develop.
More than a 4 years later, my own disabled daughter experienced a personal tragedy. She was abused in a Residential Care Home in the UK. As a result she suffered from depression and had nightmares for two years.
The image of the old woman and the disabled girl came back to me at that moment and I decided to return to Mongolia to find them. I realised, belatedly, that they were doing something important together and I wanted to understand what it was.
In the winter of 2016 I found the elderly woman and her grandchild again. They were living in Altai Village. They still needed each other but their roles had reversed. The girl with a learning disability had developed and was able to support her aging grandmother: the grandmother had given the girl an important family role. Their different life, like the other ‘Different Lives in Mongolia’, has important lessons for us all.
I was in the middle of nowhere but at the centre of everything.