Oral lives in an Orphanage in Ulgii, Western Mongolia. Her father was killed in a traffic accident and her mother drowned in the Khovd River attempting to rescue Oral’s younger brother. Oral has extended family who live in Kazakhstan and who visit her occasionally. She takes care of her older brother who has a severe mental disability and who also lives in the Orphanage. The Orphanage is run down and the furniture is in a poor state but there is a large communal TV. It’s home for anyone without a family including young people, older people, and disabled people. It didn’t have the feel of state institution, more a small community or an extended family home. Oral was very close to one of the older resident women and clearly she saw her as mother figure but she was also close to the cook and the Orphanage’s manager. Oral has a shuffling gait crossing the open area in front of the Orphanage because she was born with both feet pointing backwards making walking difficult. She is often seen with her arm gently linked through the arm of her adopted mother.
She was having a bad day when I took her portrait. Oral could be aggressive and she’d just been punched on the nose by one of men who also lived in the Orphanage. After wiping her bloody nose she sat down, told me to take her picture, and gave me a look which reflected her resilience and strength of character. The State provided only basic subsistence but the Orphanage provided a ‘family’ were, Oral told me, she was happy.