Please meet Sibylle

Sibylle arrives in Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia in 1995, 17 years ago.  She is a German nursery school teacher, in her mid-twenties. She responds to a plea by the President of Mongolia for international help. The unraveling of the Soviet Union, and the political liberation of Mongolia, is a disaster for Mongolia. Heavy Soviet subsidies disappear. An electricity blackout lasts for years. Food supplies stop. The economy withers then collapses. Temperatures drop to minus 30 degrees Celsius in the coldest capital in the world, Ulaan Baatar. Its residents lose hope.

Sibylle and a small group of NGO workers set off to Ullaan Baatar. They find a city-full of desperate families staying in small Gers (felt tents) and in cold Soviet-style apartment blocks.  Sibylle finds and looks after homeless children.  Others help the sick, the elderly, pregnant teenagers, alcoholics, prisoners. She meets an Austrian, Rene, who works with released prisoners. They love and, a little later, they marry.

NGO workers come and go. Sibylle and Rene stay; in a one-room apartment. They often take in and share their room with a ‘tricky’ child or a ‘rehabilitated’ prisoner. There are many stories. They arrange sponsors for a young deaf boy to have a ‘hearing’ operation in Germany. They comfort a released prisoner when his family shuns him. He dies of TB … they build a wooden coffin, burn tyres to melt the snow and dig a grave to bury … for God’s sake.

Nine years later an idea ‘lifts’ Sibylle and Rene.  There is a small plot that smells of water. Sibylle’s father gets it and gladly sends money.  They buy the plot, sink a well and draw water. They have WATER in a suburb that has no underground water pipes and no aboveground taps. Rene and Sibylle build a shower-house with 8 separate shower units. A furnace heats, and a waste-water system recycles, the water. The Shower-house opens and sells a community-first; hot showers! Taps turn and women and children bubble and squeak in showers. Ladies zoom around with buckets and brooms.  A Laundromat follows with 6 washing machines and 4 tumble dryers. A Hairdressing salon is next and ladies trim while laundry spins. Then a carpentry shop; it trains and employs men to build and sell furniture. A pellet-maker turns wood-waste into fuel for heating. A young, lanky Mongolian boy with big ‘hearing’ ears ambles around with little wooden works of art. Sibylle loves people and her mother is a famous baker in Germany. A Coffee Shop with Apple Strudel becomes a Café with Austrian Wiener Schnitzel. And, at last, a Guesthouse with 6 Gers (felt tents) in the back-garden for travelers, like Harry and I. There is a corner with local artwork, walls with photos, and shelves with books.  Overland truckers and bikers peel out of Gers to pine over repairs, pour over maps and pig-out on cake. Sibylle dishes and dashes and organizes any and everything. She speaks perfect German, English and MONGOLIAN.

A beehive! She calls it the OASIS.

Today, 17 years later I sit with Sibylle in her garden of sunflowers. I ask and she tells, carefully and dearly.

What can I say in words to equal your deeds, Sibylle!

…  You build as much below-the-ground as above-the-ground, as much on the in-side as out-side. With no municipal services to tap into; you dig a well and install a wastewater system, central heating, a generator, a fuel pellet maker! With no support system to draw on; you sweep them all up; politicians and businessmen, community and clients, staff and guests!

What can I say in words to equal your vision!

… You create a meeting place for the Ulaan Baatar community and overlanders from around the world. We rub shoulders in the shower-house, laundromat, hairdressing salon, kitchen and garden. It is a kind and clever link!

What can I say in words to equal your love and your loss!

… I don’t meet Rene. Together you endure and achieve so much. And yet your marriage does not survive.

 

Dear Sibylle, I see before me a ‘modern-day missionary’ and a ‘visionary businesswoman’ rolled into one!

Allow me to introduce you to our friends and family.

Simply so they too may know the VALUE of your life.

 

This is Sibylle.

 

This is the 'municipal' road that leads to her OASIS. It's a beehive ... on your right a carpentry shop, showerhouse, laundry, hairdressing salon, cafe and guesthouse!

 

... On the inside a cafe opens out onto a garden ...

 

It's just big enough for a big overland truck or two (see dad under the truck and a toddler on a scooter).

 

... and 6 Gers (felt tents) for folk like Harry and I.

 

It's cold and we fire up the little stove in our Ger! In no time at all we are giddy with heat.

 

This is our last home of the trip. We've done it Harry!!!!!

 

But there are more intrepid than us. This is Billy and his Banjo from America. He cycles from Moscow to Beijing.

 

And Kurt ... he leaves his motorbike here for a follow up trip.

 

The garden and chairs where Sibylle and I sit. Also notice the security guard hut at the Oasis in the centre of the picture.

 

 

We slowly become aware of what is all underground. If you have no municipal services to tap into you need a well, wastewaster system ...

 

... furnace, central heating system, generator ...

 

... and wood pellet maker to generate heating fuel.

 

Kurt is lucky there is enough room down there for this bike.

 

We take Sibylle out for supper at one of the new grand eateries in the booming Ulaan Baatar. Isn't it amazing ... that women always have something to say to each other.

 

And unite (from opposite ends of the world) when needs must!

13 Responses to Please meet Sibylle

  1. Schalk Potgieter

    Amen to Sibylle!

  2. Sibylle-Gabriele Poeschko

    Lindaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa….and Harry…i…have…NO WORDS…if i read this…i want to greet you there in South Africa from Mongolia and my “OASIS” cafe & guesthouse.
    You are

    S= So nice, SPECIAL -you have been here at “OASIS” in Mongolia
    P= Persons,who i would be sad not to meet them
    E= Especially ,you Linda,with your heart of gold
    C= couple of friendlyness and JOY
    I= Ingredeably fun
    A= A lot of nice talks on my chairs in my OASIS Garden-ment lots to me
    L= LOVE and Big Hug to you to SA…love yaaaa

    Greetings from me…SIBYLLE 🙂

  3. Scottish Stephens

    Another fabulous description of a wonderful lady. What she has achieved is just incredible and now we know about her and ALL she has done. Once again thanks so much and congratulations on completing your exciting and magical trip.

  4. Philna

    Congratulations, what an incredible journey! Lots of love, us.

  5. Ndaba Ndzombane

    This is a wonderful story for all South Africans to read and learn from. In this country everything has to be approved before anything can happen.Few want to take a leap of faith based on convictions and every project must have a blueprint before any money allocated let alone transferred!!.

    On a lighter note I thought you were telling us you are now back in SA- in Xhosa whic means- “Sibuyile”. I thought you got the spelling of the word wrong(typical I was saying under bated breath!!!!!!-joke) . Then realised that you were not announcing your home coming but in fact you are telling us about this wonderful Sibylle- maybe she was Xhosa maiden in her past life!!!

  6. Naude

    And united they stand …. Sybille and Linda, but together they travel …Harry and Linda. Well done, almost there…. Busy planning a next trip yet?

  7. Mike

    Is it not great, that it takes one (or two) people that have had the luxury where they previously lived and have the vision to be able to kick start an industry. good on them.
    So the trip is almost finished, well done. Whats next?. I am certainly going to miss reading about all your exploits!

  8. Melville

    Thanks again for sharing your travels with us, I really looked forward to reading every post you made along the way, well done Harry and Linda, and thumbs up to Sybille, she is a modern day Florence Nightingale!

  9. John & Ana

    Stunning report as always, thank you!

  10. Anonymous

    Another wonderful sharing of stories and most remarkable people——thank you, thank you so much for sharing !! It is all tremendous to read and see in the photos !! Love as aye Jim & Muriel xx

  11. Johnson

    Glad to to see, after almost half a year travel, you are almost there.

  12. jan and gail

    YOH!!!, what an example to all South African moaners, groaners and protesters about lack of service delivery; indeed an example for each one of us. JAN

  13. jan and gail

    WOW!! What a unique meeting with a most wonderful lady. Her enterprising spirit in such difficult conditions, just mind boggling. i loved meeting her. Loved the pictures so telling of the hardship but still accentuating all the good you found. END OF TRIP IN YOUR LAST ‘HOME’ IN THIS GREAT COMPANY! WOW AGAIN Gail

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