Plans are Coming Together

Let’s see….my Flag Expedition page should be live soon over at Artists for Conservation. I have confirmed that the weather is likely to be hot, hot, hot. Unless it rains, in which case it could be cold enough that I’ll want my down bag.

I spent three hours on the phone last night with Gana Wingard, the scientist with whom I am working on the women’s craft cooperative. She sent me a great email this morning entitled “The Grand Plan” and then noted that, of course, it’s all subject to change. But we now have hashed out a way forward and know what we need to do, who we need to talk to over there and when and in what order it will probably happen.

It reminds me of one of my favorite exchanges towards the end of one of my all-time favorite movies “The Wind and the Lion”. The Raisuli and his men are on their way to a small village, returning Mrs. Pedicaris and her two children to a contingent of American marines and, after hearing their destination described, along with the myriad dangers likely to be lurking there and the possibility that he could be killed,  The Raisuli says “It is good”. His right hand man says “What is good?’. The Raisuli answers “It is good to know where we are going.”

It turns out that Gana will be bringing radio telemetry equipment because she needs to find all the radio-collared argali or as many as possible before the next Earthwatch team arrives on August 2. There are plans to try a new population survey method since, at this point, it’s not really known how many animals are in the reserve. This is great news for me, since I will now be able to go out looking for sheep with someone who knows the reserve really well and is as motivated as I am to spot the animals.

Here are a couple of photos that I took on previous trips of the scientists using radio telemetry equipment. The research project now has some GPS collars, which send in the data via satellite, but those are relatively expensive, so there are still animals that need to be tracked the old fashioned way.

Amgaa doing radio telemetry just below an ovoo, Sept. 2006
Amgaa doing radio telemetry just below an ovoo, Sept. 2006
Jed Murdoch searching for a collared Pallas Cat; he never got a signal and the cat had vanished, April 2005
Jed Murdoch searching for a Pallas Cat he had captured and collared; he never got a signal and the collar was never found, April 2005
My "grand finale" sighting in 2005; a good-sized group; note the ewe left front wearing a radio collar
My "grand finale" sighting in 2005; a mixed group of eight argali; note the ewe left front wearing a radio collar; one of the handy things about argali is their habit of stopping to look back, which provides an opportunity to get photos of something besides their butts as they run away

Our plan is to “game drive” in the mornings and evenings, when it’s relatively cooler (Gana said that temperatures went over 100F last July. Okaaay.). During the day we will have our meetings with the women, for which the groundwork is being laid by another of the scientists, Amgalanbaatar (which means “peace hero” in Mongolian; see above photo), who we all call “Amgaa”. He is now at the reserve and is passing the word about the meeting and the hoped-for dates. Everything is tentative because summer is when the women have the most work do to, milking animals, making aruul and airag and also felt. We don’t know how many will come, but we know that they are interested. They will need to arrange to have someone watch the children and will want to be home in time to make dinner. Gana expects that they will arrive both on horses and motorbikes.

There are about 100 families living in and around the reserve, depending on their livestock for their living. The women all know how to sew and, in fact, the country women are the repository of the skills needed to make garments like del (the long robes). The younger women who have been brought up in town don’t learn to sew anymore. The material to make a del, outer fabric, liner fabric and trim costs about $30. Some of the women also do embroidery and since that’s something I’ve done on and off for many years, I’m really looking forward to seeing their work.

Three Mongols wearing del; train station, April 2005
Three Mongols wearing del; train station, April 2005

After talking with Gana, we’ve scheduled a third day for me to get together with any of the kids who are interested in art. I’m taking some sketchpads, pens and pencils. Should be a fun way to pass a hot afternoon.

We plan to go to Ikh Nart on the 23rd and return to UB on the morning of the 28th. That will give me a day and a half to tie up loose ends. Five days and counting………..

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