Sas Carey is in Mongolia trying not to buy a drum. It is a shaman’s drum, made with three-year-old female deer skin with a sheep’s tail beater. It is perfect, but she is running out of money and she has told herself and her friends she is not going to buy it.
She lies in bed sleepless. Her heart beats. She feels desire. She tells herself she is not going to buy the drum.
A friend brings the drum for her to see. He tells her to beat it — really smack it.
“Thunder. The deep resonant sound shakes my heart, my soul, the room, waking the walls — and the drum,” Carey writes of the experience. “I know it is mine.”
After buying the drum, Carey still can’t sleep. She feels silly giving an inanimate object living characteristics; but she knows that the drum is still vibrating and it won’t let her sleep.
She calls a friend who knows about shamanism and is told to feed the drum tobacco and talk to it. After performing a ritual she sleeps.
“But this is only the beginning of the drum making its presence known,” Carey writes.
After 18 years of traveling to Mongolia as a nurse and a traveler, Sas Carey, 67, of Middlebury has produced a book on the subject, “Reindeer Herders in My Heart: Stories of Healing Journeys in Mongolia.” The book gives readers an opportunity to join Carey as she follows her calling to a remote community of nomadic reindeer herders in the northernmost reaches of Mongolia.
Written in the first person, the book is an opportunity to live her experiences and encounter the ancient ways of healing, truth and the spirit world — including the story of the drum.
Although Carey went to Mongolia as a nurse and started an health care organization called Nomadicare to help the herdsmen and women, she says the book is really about cultural stories. She hopes it opens readers to universal truths.
“Shamanism is the basic religion of all people,” Carey says. “Being in the community where they use shamans is pretty universal.”
While in the central Asian country she studied shamanism as a way to connect with the spirit world, but Carey says she also carries with her a very traditional Connecticut upbringing.
“Shamanism is so much more dramatic than I am.”
Along the way she also learned much more about the nomadic lifestyle in Mongolia. It is a country of 3 million people with about half living in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. With a short growing season and soil that is not rich, Mongolia is a land that could not support much more than the herding and grazing of animals.
Carey worries that 21st century pressures could end the nomadic lifestyle.
“About 15 years ago the prime minister of Mongolia said we won’t have any nomads left in 15 years; but he was wrong,” she says. “Still 38 percent of Mongolians are Nomads, so I don’t know how long they will be around.”
As such, she is striving to document a country and a people.
In addition to creating this book, she is working on a film about becoming a shaman in Mongolia. She says she needs some funding and technical help to get the film made.
“I have all the footage — 500 hours of footage of Mongolia,” Carey says. “I really believe that if they aren’t sustainable they need documentation of the lifestyle.”
Carey’s book carries endorsements on the back cover from Bill McKibben, Jane Goodall and Bekhbat Khasbazar, the Mongolian Ambassador to the United States. She wrote it over a 15-year period during which time Carey attended a writing group at Ilsley Library in Middlebury.
“I have lived in town for over four decades and visited my Mongolian friends for nearly two decades. It is time to introduce the nomads to Americans,” says Carey.
Sas Carey will discuss her new book and present slides and video from her travels in Mongolia in a presentation at Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury on Thursday, Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m.