The plight of the reindeer people

The plight of the reindeer people

My Mum always used to say that things have changed far too much. She was born in 1925, so she did see some dramatic changes in her life time.

Most of those changes have been positive, but the explosion of the world’s population from an estimated 2 billion in 1925 to an estimated 7 billion plus now, has had a profound effect on the demand for the world’s resources and, in turn, on groups who have traditionally lived their lives much like their ancestors.

One such people are the reindeer herders, known as the Tsaschin, or Dukha, who for thousands of years, have roamed the taiga of northern Mongolia, a wilderness of mountains, forest, rock and ice which straddles the country’s border with Siberia. The herders rely on their animals for hunting and transportation, and for the staples of their diet: milk, cheese, yogurt and dried milk curds.

For months on end they move around, looking for fresh pastures for their reindeer, hunting and camping on open ground, relying on their dogs to alert them of wolves. They do go in to town, to buy flour, bullets and salt. Apparently reindeer love salt and the Tsaschin round up their herd by rustling an empty salt packet.

Their way of life is increasingly under threat and the Tsaschin’s herds have fallen from more than 2,000 in the 1970s to less than one-third of that today. The reasons for this are manifold, from the lack of interest from the Tsaschin young, exposed as they are to the relentless advance of modern technology to the refusal of the Mongolian government to allow the import of of reindeer from Siberia, Canada or Scandinavia to address the inevitable consequences of inbreeding amongst the Tsaschin herds, which has meant a weakening of the overall health of the stock.

But there’s another more depressingly inevitable factor that will probably end the Tsaschin’s nomadic way of life, man’s insatiable appetite to strip the earth of it’s natural resources. Like all nomadic people, the Tsaschin roam great areas, but they have no recognisable rights to the land they’ve used for thousands of years and now the mining companies have moved in to the taiga. Mongolia is rich in copper, gold and coal and is home to one of the 10 largest copper mines in the world and the advance of these operations is denying the Tsaschin access to land they once called their own.

The fate of all nomadic peoples is precarious, as the march of technology and the demand for raw materials continues, and it looks inevitable that a way of life that has existed for millenia will slowly die. It’s hard not to feel empathy for them, after all, we were all nomads once.

The programme on BBC Radio 4 that inspired me to find out more

Further reading:

How to live longer

How to live longer

Whilst reading a post debunking the Paleo Diet, I came across a link to a post on National Geographic about ‘Blue Zones’ which is a term coined by Dan Buettner for the regions on Earth with the longest life expectancy, disability-free life expectancy or concentration of persons over 100.

These Blue Zones include the interior of Sardinia, a remote peninsula in Costa Rica, a Greek island, a Japanese archipelago, and a community in southern California and according to research, the secret to longevity, apparently, has less to do with diet—or even exercise—and more to do with the social and physical environment in which people live.

Buettner identified nine powerful yet simple lessons that offer a blueprint for not only a longer, but happier life.

The Power 9 ™ from The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who’ve Lived the Longest:

  1. Keep moving – Find ways to move naturally, such as walking and gardening, using fewer labour saving devices.
  2. Find purpose … And pursue it with passion.
  3. Slow down – Work less, rest, and take vacations.
  4. Stop eating … when you’re 80 percent full.
  5. Dine on plants – Eat more vegetables and less meat and processed foods.
  6. Drink red wine – Do it consistently but in moderation.
  7. Join a group – Create a healthy social network.
  8. Feed your soul – Engage in spiritual activities.
  9. Love your tribe – Make family a high priority.

I like the list, especially point 6, which is a habit I intend to maintain diligently. I’d add one of my own to that list – Grow your own food. Nothing beats the primal satisfaction of eating your own produce.

There is a growing movement of disillusionment with the consumer driven ethos prevalent in Western society and it comes as no surprise to me that the people within these communities are happier. They live in harmony with their families, their communities, the earth and most importantly, themselves. It’s very much in tune with my newly found personal philosophy on life.

There were other lifestyle habits found to be common practices in each blue zone society:

  • Emphasis on strong family values
  • Strong community values
  • Exclusively plant based diets (little to no animal products)
  • Whole food lifestyles focused on fruits and veggies
  • Daily benefits of physical exercise
  • Everyone knows how to deal with stress
  • All the elders and centenarians still work
  • Daily consumption of small amounts of alcohol
  • A sense of purpose in life (Ikigai is the Japanese word for this)
  • Spirituality is part of life in all of the blue zones
  • A complete absence of smoking and obesity
  • Everyone knows the benefits of a positive attitude

You can buy the book by Dan Buettner from the National Geographic website.


Being a Dad

Being a Dad

Becoming a Dad is a relatively simple process, being a Dad is much harder.

A chance remark from my son on father’s day when he handed me a card, led me to ponder the question, what it is to be a Dad. The remark was ‘Sorry – I couldn’t find a card that said part-time Dad!’, a playful (I hope) reference to the fact that I haven’t been ever present in his life. I have two children and I’ve lived about 150 miles apart from both of them for much of their lives.

The experience of becoming a Dad was, quite simply, the single most exquisite and wonderful moment in my life, but sadly, my marriage floundered soon after the birth of my second child. Because of the circumstances surrounding that, I’ve always carried the burden of failure with me and that’s not something I find easy to forgive myself for, being such an idealist about life.

Despite the physical distance between us, I was determined to play what part in their lives that I could. I did all of absent Dad stuff graduating from McDonalds’ ‘Happy Meals’ through Pizza Hut to proper restaurants, took them bowling and got to see a lot of truly awful films. It was far from ideal for any of us, I’m sure, but those precious moments with them were my bedrock.

I think I became a better Dad, ironically, when I became a stepfather to a teenager in my last marriage. She, through her irreverent disregard for my repressive ideal of what life should be like, taught me greater patience and a better understanding of what’s trivial. As a result I like to think I became a little less grumpy!  She’s grown up now with two wonderful children whom I adore and I hope that I will always play a part in her life too.

My own children have grown up now and have their own lives and we’re free to have a different kind of relationship. I’m still their Dad but it’s more a relationship between adults. They all learned long ago that I’m far from perfect and they know my strengths and weaknesses as I do theirs.

I can’t claim to be a great Dad, or even a good one, but remarkably, despite everything and my doubts about how good or bad a Dad I’ve been, all three love me anyway. Well, they say they do!

How did that happen?

An allotment life

An allotment life

I’ve finally got my hands on an allotment. As of today I am a fully paid up member of a private allotment society in Wolverhampton.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little put off by the amount of work that needs doing (not to mention the dead rat in the water butt!), but these sorts of opportunities don’t come along very often.

It’s a key part of how I want to live my life, growing my own fruit and vegetables and enjoying the sun on my back while I tend my plot.

It should keep me busy for the next few months!

The grass isn’t always greener

The grass isn’t always greener

Many of us in the West  have very acceptable lives, if at times a little mundane.

We have partners who love us, a job that isn’t too onerous, enough money to live on, regular holidays to interesting places, cable TV, good food, ample wine and yet for some of us it isn’t enough.

We can’t overcome the feeling that things could be better, a sense that we’re missing out, a conviction that life could some how be more interesting and more fulfilling.

Contrast that to the undeveloped world, where access to clean water and enough food to feed your family is often a challenge, let alone disease and war, and you wonder why we feel the way we do.

I believe that for many of us, the system in which we live demands of us that we have a steady job that consumes most of our waking hours, that we own our own home, a flat screen TV, the latest electronic gadgets etc, etc. The end result is that we are so busy consuming that we don’t have time for spiritual reflection on life.

I’m not talking about religion, far from it, I’m talking about taking time to focus on stuff that feeds the soul rather than the body, stuff that truly makes us happy.

For many, I suspect, if you examine the things that truly make you happy, it won’t be stuff you can buy at the Apple store (or any other aspirational lifestyle shop) it will be something simple like the laughter of a child, dinner and conversation with friends, having someone who you love and loves you in return, someone with whom you can share your fears with, family, sunshine, birdsong, bluebells, the list goes on.

For sure, we all need to have enough money to feel safe and to live a modest life, but do we really need to buy in to the illusion that life would somehow be better if we tore down all we have and grasp for a media fuelled unrealistic vision of life.

Better to make small changes in our lives to feel more content with ourselves. My list would include

  • Eliminate personal debt. Debt is usually incurred in acquiring stuff that you though would make life better, but miraculously, your life still feels empty, Debt is a bad thing.
  • Get healthy. Losing weight is a simple process of eating a little less and exercising a little more. It isn’t a fad diet, and despite all of the marketing to the contrary it’s not a quick fix. Eat more fruit and vegetables, lean protein and go for a 20 minute walk at least three times a week. That’s all it takes and being healthier and looking better makes you feel good about yourself.
  • Pay attention to your relationships. It’s all too easy when you’re feeling dissatisfied with your current life to overlook how your partner is affected by your negativity.
  • Love your family and try to spend time with them. They will probably be your best means of support should times get tough and, hopefully, won’t judge too harshly.
  • Never stop learning. We are a naturally curious species and to learn new things gives us a sense of achievement and fulfilment.
  • Be honest with yourself. Admit your failings, but recognise and celebrate your strengths.

Life has taught me many lessons, the fact that the grass isn’t always greener is probably one of the most painful.

‘You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.’ ~Buddha

A Mistress none the less

A Mistress none the less

She is a subtle Mistress.

She tries to catch you young, she doesn’t push, she flirts with you and you flirt back. You think that you can control her, but she knows better, she bides her time.

Some remain unmoved, some are totally in her thrall, but for most she is content to wait and use her wiles to ensnare you.

She knows that you cannot resist her charms, she soothes and reassures you, you turn to her unthinking. She’s always there when needed.

She knows your weaknesses and slowly she seduces you, until one day you’re lost, you cannot live without her, she has you in her grip.

My Mistress is mainly red wine and whisky, occasionally gin or vodka.

She is demanding, too demanding. There hasn’t been a single day that I can remember when I didn’t turn to her for comfort, often too much comfort.

She and I need a little break from each other.

Perhaps I’ll try tomorrow.

“I have drunken deep of joy, And I will taste no other wine tonight.” Shelley