A stunning short film shows what life is like for a centuries-old nomadic community.

"There is 3G service in even the most remote places," Brandon Li explained.

It sounds like I'm quoting a cellphone commercial, but Li's actually a filmmaker. He recently spent a month in the vast grasslands of Mongolia.


Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

In his visually stunning short film "Nomads of Mongolia," he shows us what life, work, and play look like for the Kazakh shepherds who've roamed those lands for centuries — and how it's changing.

Believe it or not, "most of the nomads have cellphones," Li says.

The Diplomat wrote that it's the only way for parents to keep tabs on their children who live in cities. But the cellphone isn't the only sign of modernity entering nomadic life.

Photo by Ansley Sawyer, used with permission.

Ansley Sawyer, a producer on the film, added, "Instead of shepherding on horseback, it's sometimes easier to herd by motorcycle." She also noted that while the nomads once relied on livestock-drawn carriages to move their camps, today they use Jeeps and trucks.

"I'll never forget watching an eagle hunter climb on top of his Russian Jeep to get better reception and to update his Facebook," said Sawyer. "You can get internet literally anywhere these days."

But the ways of the old world are still alive (not the least badass of which is the aforementioned eagle hunting).


"A massive, deadly parakeet." Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"[One] thing that surprised me was the day-to-day experience of having a pet eagle," said Li. "To the nomads, it's just a part of the household — like a massive, deadly parakeet. Once the winter arrives, it gets to stretch its wings and hunt."

(You should definitely watch the video at the bottom to see one in action.)

As the modern world shapes their way of life, one thing never changes for these nomads: their love of family.

"Everyone's focus is to strengthen and support the family," said Sawyer. And amid the desolation of the Mongolian steppe, that focus is as sharp as their eagles' sight.

From family values to a reliance on the natural world, we can find reflections of ourselves even in the middle of nowhere.

Even younger family members who leave for cities like Ulaanbaatar for education and work keep strong connections to home.


Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"I think the urbanized people of Mongolia still have pretty strong ties to their nomadic history," Li told me. "Some of them told me they couldn't sleep in the city — too many noises at night. For many of them, the move to the city isn't necessarily a permanent one."

Still, the world isn't always changing for the better.

In addition to family, the only other thing the nomads can count on is nature. "The Kazakh people are totally dependent on their environment," Sawyer said. "They move the herd through the summer and settle down for the winter after harvesting a percentage of their flock."

Climate change is making it more difficult for the nomads to maintain their way of life.

Image from "Nomads of Mongolia"/Brandon Li/Vimeo.

"Mongolia is becoming drier and drier, which is making it more difficult for the nomads to find land for their animals to graze," Li explained. "This is forcing some of them to give up their lifestyle and move to cities."

Sawyer also noted that many families in the treeless region use coal to heat their homes. But the rising cost of coal has created yet another tension that divides families as young people take to cities to earn money to support their families.

Most of us will never be able to fully relate to the nomads' pastoral way of life, but Li's film shows we may actually have a lot in common.

From family values to a reliance on the natural world, we can find reflections of ourselves even in the middle of nowhere.

Watch "Nomads of Mongolia," a short film by Brandon Li:

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less