A Place beyond Happiness

In April, Daniel set out with his team on his learning journey as an entrepreneur in Mongolia. In this series of blog posts, he shares what he has experienced and taken away. Enjoy reading about his incredible journey to another world.

As Westerners, we often think and wonder about happiness … when we stayed with the family at the ger in way way way remote northern Mongolia, I tried to see life from their point of view … and it made me wonder.

The ger is a round unit filled with the basics of carpets, mattresses, cooking utensils, a stove in the middle, a little dresser at back where the head of the family keeps important things. The ger is the center of it all, where everything happens … and we were welcomed into the family from the first moment.

They were not “tourist-friendly”, in fact, we may have been the first Westerners to ever stay with them. No, they were genuine and I kind of doubt they can be any other way. Whatever i’s done, is done communally, everything is about togetherness, about sharing, about caring for each other. It is at their core because without community, there’s no survival out there. When Eva, Tom, Stefan or I entered the ger, we would always be greeted. When we shared something, it would always be shared from family member to family member (chief first). As neither Negi nor Ogde (our travel friends/guides) spoke more than one handful of broken English words, we were left to using gestures and our few Mongolian words – it worked like a charm. We laughed a lot, and yes, we shared a lot.

These days in such remote gers, nomads can be as connected to the rest of the world as they want. With solar panels and satellite dishes, they can watch TV. In our ger, there was no TV – people talked and people played cards and the adults would always take time to cuddle the little ones in their arms or in their laps. The solar panel was simply used to charge a battery which in turn charged the various smart phones. Oh, and the smart phones were excellent devices for us to get to know each other better. They loved looking at our pictures to get a sense of our worlds – and we were glad to share every picture we took while there (you’ll see some of them below).

As my knee’s busted, I only joined one of the hiking trips – everything around there seems almost barren at first glance, and yet narrow creeks gurgle up from the mountains and snake their way passed the gers. I so enjoyed just being there at their oasis, watching them milk goats in the morning, collect water from the creek, playing, talking, taking time for everything and for everyone. Visitors would often come from other gers and we were always included as there was always something offered to drink and/or eat.

Happiness. If you knew your life inside out and that life, with work and family, was way way out there, would you ever even contemplate happiness? Would musing about it mean something to you? I thought that, for them, there is an incredible clarity of life. From the slaughtering of a sheep to the birth of a child, from the seasonal moving of the camp to the communal customs, it’s all clear. Perfectly clear. I thought that, for them, life isn’t about finding fulfilment – that often elusive quest for happiness that takes up so much of our thinking – for them it’s simpler. For the chief, his wife, their children and grandchildren, life is either good, or it’s not. If it isn’t good, you work to make it better until it’s good again, with all it’s perfect simplicity and clarity.

Now I’m back in Switzerland – this morning my wife and I talked a lot about many things. And several times I had the image of the chief, with his granddaughter on his knee, pop up before me. What would he say to our questions, to our thoughts? In fact (those who know why I’ve written “in fact” must now rise), I’m pretty sure I know, I understand, I “get” their clarity. To much of what we wonder and worry about, the chief would simply shrug. It doesn’t matter. Most things don’t. What matters is that the family’s healthy, that the herd’s tended, that the milk keeps flowing, that the wolves are kept at bay. What matters is the warmth in the ger, what matters is family. As a man as a community manager, I’ll keep the image of chief and granddaughter close. It makes everything – EVERYTHING – crystal clear.

One thought on “A Place beyond Happiness

  • Judy Gates says:

    Thanks, Daniel, for sharing your Mongolian Bookbridge experience. I was in Mongolia in Murun, (Khovsgul province) when Bookbridge was established there and helped set up the learning center. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer who lived there for three years (2008-2012) and I go back each year to see my friends and get involved in some project. I love the country and the people and feel that I am at least half Mongolian. It’s been wonderful to see Bookbridge continue to grow and expand into other countries. At a time when there is so much divisiveness in the world, Bookbridge–and, in my case, the Mongolian people–have done so much to unite us as one family building a community that reaches out and embraces the world. I’m so grateful to have been a part of Bookbridge–and to continue to watch it grow.

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