DjeeJig – “ the little one” in Tsaatan – is the tiniest one yet he’s the grandest character of them all. He’s 7, looks 4 and can’t stop eating. I call him Shorty. The villagers call him “The Boss” and for a good reason – he’s got quite the temper on him. To compensate for his small size, he stays raw. If the older sister (18) wins at cards, he grabs a piece of firewood. If the mother denies him candy, he wields a knife. He slaps deer bucks across the nozzle, saddles up the village dogs, refuses to wear boots even in snow and growls like a wild animal when angry, which is pretty often. Everybody laughs, but obeys. Shorty’s got a card blanche at the village, and it’s equally scary and fascinating to watch him – but better to do so from the distance.
Troubles is Shorty’s brother, 8 years old. Totally one with Nature. Refuses to wear anything but grey pants with a huge hole on his bare ass. His job is riling up the crowd, tickling the funny bone, serving as Shorty’s sidekick and, occasionally, a pack mule. Falls asleep like a dead rock when it’s time, can monitor the mountains through the binoculars for hours, and can’t wait to grow old enough for the horse parking duty, like his older brother.
Joker is a same age cousin. Sports a red Snoopy sweater, disrespects the idea of footwear, and should have been born in Hollywood. He can sense you turning on your camera 600 feet away and jump smack to the center of your frame in a nano-second – Hello! Special Smile! It’s practically impossible to take a picture in the village without him in the frame’s foreground, background, middle-ground, or flying through diagonally – whether you wanted him there or not.
The three have no iPads or iPhones, no babysitters, no day care, no schedule, no meal-time or bed time. All day long, left to their own devices in a pristine taiga, eating whatever they find in any of the teepees or on the ground, it’s a round-the-clock horse play. Often literally. But you can already tell which one would have been destined to become a CEO if raised in a much less fortunate environment.