Tuvshinbayar Sugirsuren is one of the last nomads of Omongov, Mongolia’s largest province. Together with his family he keeps ancient traditions that are disappearing. He breeds camels in a land where there is about no grass left. Erdenchimeg, his wife, takes care of the animals, the food, the children. Tuvshinbayar is proud of the life he leads with his family. He wouldn’t change it, he feels free, even if he also is aware of the transformation that is disturbing the country form more than fifteen years. The climate is changing in Gobi, and seventy years of pro-Soviet Communism are not even a memory.
In Mongolia mineral resources of gold and coal have been discovered. Due to corruption and misgovernment, almost 50% of the extractor corporations are foreign-owned. Especially from China, but also from Australia and Canada the multinational companies devastate the population and the land. John McLeod, manager of MacMahon Mongolia, says that the livestock dies because of powders that settle on the surrounding territory. Deprived of the only means of support and driven by the request of labor, the nomads take down their tents for the last time, in the hope of finding a job in the few villages that are developing quickly around the mines.
Saikhana lives in Tsogttsestiie, a district fifteen kilometers form the mine Tawan Tolgoi, from when he was four. He saw the population accommodate other nomads and grow. Now they are about 10 thousand. In 2020 about 40 thousand inhabitants are predicted, in one of the provinces with the lowest population density in the world. There are banks, hotels, telephone companies. This is progress for him, who works in the tourism industry. No longing for rain anymore, no time spent looking for missing horses. They have television, karaoke, import cars. There is free time, which is a change for those who come from nomadic traditions. There is no water, no infrastructures, no meeting points. There is unemployment and poverty. Few years of modernity are wiping away an ancient culture. Young people cannot feel this emptiness as they dream about wealth and social climbing but find themselves entertained by television and alcohol more and more every day.
The future is not a desert any longer, but a village overlooking on nothing. Small plots of land with gers in messy lines take the place of boundless areas. What in Mongolia is now called progress is a quick elite development. It is poorly paid work and a cruel and difficult urban poverty condition. An irreversible process, too young to be analyzed, that erases ancient but fragile traditions. The footprints of the last nomads are being covered with dust.