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Karlie Tipton, Editorial Assistant
Photo by JOHN JERNIGAN
Goat for the Gold
By Karlie Tipton
May 24, 2012
On my way to work today, I followed my normal morning commute routine of half listening to Norman-based National Public Radio affiliate KGOU in the background as I drank my coffee, stressing about the day’s upcoming events, and shouting at motorists who were driving as distractedly as me. But suddenly, my speakers erupted with the bleating of goats and I genuinely wanted to know what NPR could possibly have to say on the matter.
The story was one many Americans have heard before: a family’s life is rapidly changing because of industrialization, education, and environmental shifts. But this was not about corn farmers in Iowa. Rather, today’s piece, part of a four-part series, was about Bat-Erdene Badam and his family of herders living in the middle of the Gobi desert in Mongolia. The 47-year-old has been raising goats, combing away their precious cashmere fur, and selling it for about $20 a pound – from which he makes about $6,000 a year – for basically his entire life. According to the story, two out of five Mongolians currently make their living this way, but with an economy growing faster than any other in the world thanks to rich mineral deposits and growing climatic uncertainty, Badam’s son, Uuganbaata, will not be following in his footsteps.
I couldn’t believe that anyone would pass up the opportunity to be a shepherd of such beautiful animals (with the exception of their creepy eyes), to work with the land, and to produce a valuable material through your own hard work. I all but raised my hand and shouted “I’ll do it!,” so it’s probably a good thing that there wasn’t a goat herding recruiter in my car just then.
I realized I just spent almost $30,000 on a journalism degree and would throw it away in a heartbeat to go and live in the middle of nowhere and comb goats for less than I made working for minimum wage. Not that Badam and his family would have me—I don’t know the first thing about raising livestock, I have to sleep with a fan, and I doubt they have enough SPF in Mongolia to keep my pale skin from being burnt to a crisp. Nevertheless, I would jump at the chance to do something I’m sure my ancestors dreamed they wouldn’t have to do anymore.
Maybe I won’t be booking a plane ticket to Mongolia any time soon, but I might start practicing just in case. I’m sure my dog could use a good, thorough combing…