Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sheepguts, and Pattern Literacy (Day 07)

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 Treated to a first birthday family feast last night, and was honoured with the privellege of cutting the nomadic traditional sheep-intestine-cutting-ceremony, in which the birthday girl (who has just begun walking) has her legs bound with the dried intestinal tract of the sheep we had just devoured for dinner.  There were speeches and gifts and lollies (traditional, and processed modern junk) piled upon the table in abundance, and when the airag (i) started flowing it was a struggle to keep my eyes open; its tart, fizzy, fermented alcohol warmed my belly and relaxed tired muscles that still haven't quite yet recovered from the epic 3-day, 1,700 km roadtrip we (only barely) survived to get here.


Photo: Ainabek, my faithful translator and the best damn travel guide in Bayan-Ulgii.

Tired as I was this morning, I felt for my bleary-eyed translator who showed up 5 minutes early (unheard of in 'Kazakh-time', which is similar to 'Hawaiian-time') clutching a mug of coffee so thick and black it could have been motor oil - he has had to work three times as hard as me, thinking and translating into 3 languages simultaneously: English to Kazakh, then Mongolian, and back again (thank you Ainabek).  (Disclaimer: shameless plug imminent) If you are ever interested in exploring Bayan Ulgii from a local insider's perspective, look him up at BackToBekTravel.com, he will take good care of you and will no doubt outperform your wildest expectations to help you create your own epic adventure in this forg otten corner of Mongolia.

The morning's sessions (Design Principles part II and Pattern Literacy) sparked excited class discussions as students started to see the possibilities of where they could take these concepts, and come up with their own solutions.  Topics covered ranged widely, from watershed management and riparian buffer zones, to passive solar greenhouse design, to mycellium networks and the functions of mushrooms, to designing diverse & resilient local economies, to potential hasha (ii) designs for vegetable production, to using plants as indicators of soil conditions to read the landscape, to coldframe and cloche (iii) designs adapted for Bayan Ulgii. 

Photo: Ger under construction in Zavkhan province, 2010: looking for patterns repeated in nature. 

Such is the power of the permaculture design framework: by working from patterns to details, designs can be adapted to infinitely varied, and sometimes, seemingly unrelated applications - conventional economic thinking would have you believe that the design principle of Encouraging Biodiversity would have little relevance to designing resilient economies - though when viewed through a permacultural lens, we can clearly see they are intricately related).


Photo: This post proudly (and unabashedly) brought to you by Back-toBek Travel.



(i) Traditional fermeneted mare's milk.

(ii) Family compound.

(iii) Bell-shaped glass covers used as cold frames in old Parisian market gardens.

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