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Life in the Most Polluted Capital in the World

By Joseph Hincks | Photographs by Zhang Chi for TIME | Video by Zhang Chi, Aria Chen and Arpita Aneja March 23, 2018
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"It’s 11 below (-24C) outside but the stove is burning and baby Almasbek Toltalkhan is warm in his family’s yurt. His mother, Nursaule, scoops him from a crib engraved with pictures of coconut palms and joggles him on her knee while the doctor readies his shot.

At 11 months old, Almasbek is just past the nebulous state of babyhood. He cannot say ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ but knows bainuu, the greeting with which Mongolians answer the phone, and he wears tartan felt pajamas. He also has a pug-like wheeze on every out-breath and has been hospitalized eight times since birth.

“Our youngest is sick very often,” says Nursaule, 25, who like many Mongolians goes by her first name. Almasbek was initially diagnosed with bronchitis in September. Pneumonia followed, and the family ended up spending most of November and December in hospital. “We would go to the hospital for ten days of treatment. Then after four or five days at home, we would have to go back again,” she says. “Last time they took him into intensive care.”

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