Living in Mongolia

Now that I'm talking about this admirable environmentally friendly project I might as well talk about something related. In a number of years (think 15-20 years from now) I'm planning on living in Mongolia permanently (or semi-permanently if the laws require me to do so). Of course, we can buy a house in Ulaanbaatar but housing blocks and apartment buildings are heated centrally (which can and does fail on a regular basis in certain districts), rooms have rather poor ventilation, and power interruptions frequently occur.

We could also live in the traditional nomad's dwelling, the ger. This dwelling has served the Mongolian people and their ancestors well for the past 2-3000 years but in terms of comfort it's no match for a proper house. A ger offers only limited space, virtually no privacy, and has poor ventilation. The main advantage, its mobility, has little value in a sedentary lifestyle.

Sofar the best option would be to build our own house, to our own specifications. We have a gazar in the outskirts of UB and we want to build our house there. The land is quite far from the city centre, about 11 km or a cool 30-45 minutes by bus, and is not connected to the sewer or water system. Electricity is available but brown-outs and black-outs frequently occur. Cooking is done on stoves burning wood or coal. From experience I can tell you that living there in winter is NOT easy at all.

In the past few years, as my thoughts have been coming together and gained strength, I've been reading up on how to make ourselves less dependent on the general utilities and more dependent on our own devices. Did you ever see the BBC series The Good Life? Well, something like that but better. :)

Planning the lay-out of the house is one such theme where we could reduce our heating needs. Isolation of walls and roof is another. Solar electricity, use of the sun's heat, wind power; all could be sources of heat, hot water and electricity. Human and kitchen waste can be re-used as fertiliser, or (if we feel very brave) as a source of bio gas. A simple greenhouse could provide us with a supplement of vegetables, potatoes, and fruits while chicken, a goat or pig, or even a cow could provide us with wool, milk, eggs or meat.

Over the past few years I've found quite a few good links, which are on another computer, wouldn't you know? I also got quite some first-hand reports on the experiences of one of my uncles, who lives in the mountains in the south of Spain. And now I found a book that could provide me with the knowledge of how to set things up, organise it properly, and turn the whole enterprise into a succesful endeavour. The book is Ecovillages: a practical guide to sustainable communities by Jan Martin Bang. It's not badly written but I taste some self-glorification in the writing. I haven't time yet to read the book completely but it sure has given me some insights and ideas. One is to take a closer look at the kibbutz system. Another is that there haven't been many attempts to build a sustainable community in a poor country in a cold and extreme climate, like Mongolia.

My main concern is that most, if not all, of the profiled sustainable communities depend on the use of wood; not just for building houses but also for heating and cooking! And while wood is much better as a replenishable source of energy, burning wood still pollutes the air tremendously (if you've ever been in UB in winter you know what I mean), while logging can have devestating consequences for the environment at large. Both these topics are of major concern in Mongolia right now, where UB is choking on the enormous air pollution, and where illegal or excessive logging and corruption have in places already led to deforestation on a large scale.

I'm seriously troubled by this. I hope I can find more sources on sustainable communites where the focus is away from using wood, especially for fuel. For now I can only hope....
Ecovillages: a practical guide to sustainable communities

In a Hanomag on veg oil to Mongolia...?

Well, whaddayaknow! I just bumped into a website about one of the oddest but nicest challenges I've ever heard of! Ever thought of taking an old Hanomag truck, let it run on vegetable oil, and take it through Russia to Mongolia? Photographer Jeroen Nooter and graphic artist Sara Nuytemans are just doing that! On June 24 they left for their trip, which sofar took them through Germany and Poland, into Russia. The last update of the site is of August 22.

Their motivation for this huge undertaking? To make the world aware of the alternatives to petrol-powered vehicles, that vegetable oil is a viable alternative, and that we can be environmentally friendly while still driving our cars. A secondary motive is to create a greater awareness of Mongolia. In my book these motives make them heroes!

I hope they enjoy their trip, have a wonderful time and experiences, and make it to Mongolia in one piece. Jeroen and Sara, sain yavaarai!