A first-hand look at kinds in manholes

City of Lost Children: Part 2

July 12, 2008|By Kent Treptow

Eamonn arranges to have me ride along with the foundation’s “Night Clinic,” which roams the city in a donated Mercedes Unimog truck looking for children living in manholes and black markets. The clinic consists of Saraa, a young doctor just out of medical school, Davga, a nurse who has been with the foundation for seven years, and Bathishig, a perpetually smiling 19-year-old who works as a bodyguard (like most Mongolians, they use only one name). Bathishig is a success story –  a former street child who was rescued and raised in the foundation’s ger village (a ger is a traditional felt tent used by nomads and still favored by many city dwellers). He is now studying at a university to become a television cameraman.

The driver starts the truck and heads east down Peace Avenue, dodging potholes and stray dogs. It is -20 degrees Celsius. Icicles hang 6 feet off the eaves of apartment buildings and drop like daggers when the wind blows. Coal smoke boils from the western power plants, snuffing out the last rays of the setting sun. It looks, and feels, like hell frozen over.


The truck stops at a hole directly in front of an apartment building, so close to the entrance that residents must literally step over it when going in or out. Steam spirals from it, a product of hot-water pipes that warm the holes and make it possible for children to live outside in winter temperatures that drop below -35 degrees Celsius. It shows signs of habitation but is empty now. Another sits in the walkway leading up to a military base. It is also empty. A third hole, behind the Bayanzurkh District Hospital, turns up a girl with painted blue fingernails and a stomach ailment. Her name is Byamba. She is 16 years old, but looks 12.

“It’s from poor nutrition,” Saraa says of the girl’s small stature.

Davga says the stomach pain is probably food poisoning from bad meat scavenged from trash. She checks her legs and finds an open, circular wound about 2 inches wide. It’s from burning herself on a pipe that runs through the hole she lives in. The injuries are so common that Byamba didn’t bother to mention it. Davga cleans her wound and gives her medicine and fresh food.

“Byarlalaa!” the girl shouts ? thank you! ? as she skips off and disappears into her hole.

Word spreads that the clinic is here. Children appear in bunches, and soon the truck is elbow-to-elbow with excited kids. It looks like recess at an elementary school, except that some of these kids could pick your pockets in five seconds flat. In 15 minutes the 50 sack lunches the team prepared have been handed out, and the children disperse into the night.


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