I peek out of the tent flap into think fog, pouring some viscous milk tea to match. I reemerge after the bowl of the froth has drained to find the fog lifted. A strange landscape is revealed, one of mountains, but with no trees or rocks. Grass and herbivores cover the peaks and valleys as far as I can see. The herds of sheep and yaks are abundant enough that the squeaking sounds of their chomping can be heard clearly from a peak away like the noise of many feet trying to squeeze into rubber boots, . People are outnumbered by the tens of thousands, with around 16 tents in the valley that form our small community. At night our small troop of white tents glows back at the stars from darkness of the hills. It looks like luminescent jellyfish have been beached on a dark deserted shore. Once inside the tents the belch of large bullfrogs encompass the structure, produced by the thousands of yaks that float in the sea of black.
Men tend to the technical tasks of roping, killing, and even manage the mating of the yaks, only allowing certain bulls to pass on their genes. However, the women by far have the largest workload and never seemed to stop tending to tasks from sunup to well past dark. In this strange environment young girls no more than ten years old work long hours of manual labor, making the average construction worker look lazy, soft, and irresponsible.
The young kids watch over, milk, drag, tie, and manage large herds of horned furry beasts ten times their size. They carry the waste of the creatures on their backs, spread and turn it to make fires. They squeeze out the lactose and churn it to sustain themselves and stay warm at over 10,000 feet. Their tiny hands grab the hairs off of the woolly coats and collect the fiber for warmth. They drive the herds to the tops of high mountains, pushing on against storms that rip across ridges with their plastic bag coats.
I take orders from my eleven year old cattle driving boss. She speaks to me in a foreign tongue and smiles at my inefficiency and disappointing performance. Her feces covered finger points to the yaks that need drug away, and to the hills that I must climb. My muscles sore and my stomach sour from a diet of milk and flour, I dig in further in search of an inner strength that has been starved by comfort and pampered expectations.
Stew Motta July, 2011