Saturday, July 21, 2007

A visit to the unregistered migrants mining for gold and coal

We hit the road at 8am friday to beat traffic for our 2 hour drive to Darkhar (I know I'm spelling that wrong, but I don't know where to look it up!) where there are mining sites for both coal and gold.
Funny thing. We arrived there at 1:30pm. Five and a half hours later.
There were very bumpy roads but not really that much traffic, so I'm not quite sure what happened. Lucky for me, the company in the car was compelling and, I was able to take a cat nap or two. Dr. Munkhuu had this great cashmere back brace that she offered up for me to use, but I said that at more than half her age, I thought she deserved it more than me! Apparently the brace costs about $6USD which to me sounds cost effective, practical and trendy! Sign me up for one! Cashmere is plentiful here…but cashmere is still cashmere and even at the discounted price, you are still paying a lot.
It was my first day free of a camera crew, and though they were fantastic, it was nice to not have to think about interview questions, or video footage.
The governor of the Soem where the mining takes place, two of his staff and a few others, met us in a Jeep about a hour away from the mining district to direct us the rest of the day. Everything seemed to be 30 more kilometers or 10 more kilometers but everything seems to take at least another hour. At the time, the distance didn't really phase us—the countryside was very peaceful.
We were shocked though, after driving for hours through empty fields to see a massive city crop up in the distance. The mining district that we visited was at the tip of the city, but still in a very rural location.
As we approached the mining fields we saw 2-3 people in various quadrants in the distance. Each hovered near a bed of water, seeking their treasure. The mining industry is filled with unregistered migrants—which to UNFPA equates to people who are in dire need of help because they government can not officially offer them care and support.
We drove "10 kilometers more"—30 minutes and we met several miners and their families. Unlike the rich herdsman we met yesterday, these families literally had merger fabric tents pitched on the sand and very minimal resources. Two little boys helped their dad—we asked where his daughter were and he said they left them with family in the city because he didn't want to expose them to this lifestyle. (The boys were all about the photo ops as you'll see!) My pictures show them working hard, sieving through the rocks and gravel and achieving success in finding 4 small (tiny) pieced of gold. I was pretty impressed that they found some on the first try.
The adults have been encouraged to get jobs in the Soem Center, but they say "the money there is worse and they have to report to a supervisor." "Here, I am my own boss."
Unlike most of the UNFPA projects that I talk about, in this case, the men are the particularly vulnerable group. They have hard, laborious working conditions, low income, poor shelter, few resources, and they have little to no access to social services or health care of anytime. There wives suffer too, of course, but you can see the worry and hardship in each man's face.
We gave them a carton of apple juice as we left and the few families living in the neighboring tents gathered together with joy. If only apple juice was a long term sustainable solution to ensure then happiness, health and dignity.
We made our way back to the city and I met with the video crew to pick up the tapes. Anika left for the airport at 4am the next day and I left at 10:30am.
It was time to say goodbye to Mongolia.

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