Wednesday, March 2, 2011

21 Ger Salute

I am such a bum. I attempted to finish this blog before I left for America, but that didn't work out at all, nor did trying to finish it before March. Whoops. But here it is, in all it’s glory- my Tsagaan Sar post.

Ok, before I begin- Happy 50th Birthday, Peace Corps!! :D

So by now, you now that Tsagaan Sar has came and went. It was honestly the craziest, most indulgent holiday I’ve participated in, and that’s counting Thanksgiving. It’s kinda like Thanksgiving + Christmas + Halloween, really. And Mongolians treat it as such.

Next to the Ovoo! All bundled up, ready for the New Year!
It all started on Tsagaan Sar Eve (called “Bituun”). I went to work as usual but there was quite literally nothing going on except for people preparing for the holiday. Even the housewives that take “breaks” in the hospital were nowhere to be seen (seriously, people treat the hospital as a vacay spot- can you say: Easiest. Patients. Ever?) So instead I spent the morning (and afternoon) gutting and seasoning fish for my CPs. The smell reminded me of the good ol’ days of the AAHL (fish lab) back at MSU. Ahh, I was home.

I then chilled at home until Suvdaa called me to come to her apartment. As tradition goes, you visit your parents on Bituun, more relatives on the first day of Tsagaan Sar (TS), then friends on the second day. That totally didn’t apply to me since I did most of my visiting on the first day, but I digress.

First Sunlight of the New Year
I spent Bituun night at Suvdaa’s home, celebrating it with vodka, buuz, and the fish I cooked earlier in the day. Her two children then challenged me to a couple games of huzur (spelling it wrong- it’s a Mongolian card game, similar to Hearts/Spades). I got my butt kicked so badly by her daughter it was insane.

Suvdaa's Father! Little hard of hearing :)
The next morning (or actually, later that day since we didn’t go to bed until well after midnight), we got up extra early to see the sun rise at dawn. It’s a tradition to greet the New Year right by seeing the first bit of sunlight rise over the Mongolian steppe. This year is the Year of the Rabbit, and last year was Year of the Tiger (alright, no one told me that, no wonder it was such a nice year).

We went to the tallest peak in our town, which isn’t really saying much, but it gave a wonderful view of the horizon to the east. It was bitterly cold, with a slight wind, so I opted to wear a ton of layers until my deel which I was kind of paying for later since the gers I went to were blazing hot. But it was nice outside, anyway. After seeing the first peak of sunrise, the Mongolians raise their arms and shout, “hooray!” Monty Python style (literally, that’s what it sounds like… “and then they rejoiced”. I think it’s a Buddhist chant), and move their arms in a clock-wise motion, while other people threw rice and milk to the sky. I felt pretty out of place, but it was really cool that Suvdaa took me.

Tuya's Family!
After getting back to Suvdaa’s home, we started the greetings of the New Year. When you welcome people into your home, you start with the oldest male adult, and move down from there (or in a circle if in a ger, but always with the eldest first). You hold out your arms and if you’re younger, you place them on bottom so you’re kind of grabbing onto the other person’s elbows. You then both say, “amar bain oo” (formal greeting) and kiss/sniff each other on the cheeks. You then sit down to eat. OH and you don’t greet the same person twice in one Tsagaan Sar. My bad for attempting that bit.

All together, I visited 21 homes. I’ve never been so tired, so full, and so overwhelmed with all the hospitality. Visits usually go as follows:
-Greetings to everyone
Too cute- Nema, Alex, and their apparent
adoptive children, ha.
-Sit down, eat a piece of “white food” (aka food made from dairy) first or wait for the cup of milk tea that will be brought to you
-Start eating salat (mayo-covered egg or potato salad), pickles, etc
-Get a big thing of buuz and start eating that
-In between all of that there’s at least three vodka shots that are offered to you (seriously, it’s tradition)
-Also talk about stuff in between there with the limited Mongolian you have
-If you’re super lucky like me, you’ll get asked to sing any Mongolian songs you know
-Near the end of the visit the host gives gifts to the guests. Apparently it’s not a sign to leave, but it basically means you can leave whenever. Usually I didn’t stay at a house more than half an hour.
Gifts I got included: tons of candy/chocolate, unit cards for my phone, money (including *American* dollars!), a neat glass elephant statue, gloves, a scarf, a mini iron (found that one funny because that house gave the men cigarettes and the women irons. I can see what’s happening), leather key holder, and tons of shampoo and body wash- really useful!
-Say thank you and goodbye!

So the first couple homes I went to were with Suvdaa and her family, then we went to her parents house, and Tuya’s home after that. Umm, who told me Tuya can play the guitar?? Anyway, right after that I met up with Alex and Nema and went with them to visit the Mercy Corps people’s homes, which I knew them due to always coming to their office to take pictures of them. :)

Ger Tsagaan Sar!
After THAT (still same day here people), we went to Bymba’s and met up with Mogi to go to his home and some of his friends’ homes. Yeah, by the end of that I didn’t know if I was super tired, drunk, or both. That day I went to 15 homes. Oi.

The next morning a sad Mika, sad by the fact that I didn’t spend any time with him, awaked me from my sleep. Boo. After getting myself together in the morning, I started round two of Tsagaan Sar. I went to my friend Bojo’s home, who her mother is a nurse at the hospital. Bojo lives and goes to school in UB, and was there for Tsagaan Sar. Her family was so incredibly nice, and they said they were honored that I came to their home since I was the first foreigner to visit during Tsagaan Sar. :) D’aww! And the father even gave me a book of Buddhist prayers in Mongolian script, in which he wrote a message of good luck and thanks in the cover… in script! :D It was such a nice visit. I left just as more family members came, and I didn’t have to go far to reach my next destination- my supervisor’s! The assistant mayor was there when I arrived, so it was nice to chat with them for a little while.
Supervisor's home

The afternoon was spent at Todd’s, Tunga’s, and Nema’s homes. I remember because I took pictures at every place I went to, making sure that I didn’t forget anything that happened. Good thing, too, I can’t quite remember since it’s been a few weeks. :/ So that brought my house visiting that day up to 5.
Bojo's Family
The third and “final” day of Tsagaan Sar (I put that in quotes because in most places it lasts much more than three days, especially in soums), we had the big “hospital greeting,” meaning everyone came to the hospital so we could do a mini-version of what you do at everyone’s homes. Kind of like seeing everyone but less mess because you don’t have to serve people or give gifts.

After that, I didn’t plan anything so I gladly got out of my deel (the buus was killing my ribs, ha) and started catching up on emails. That was so short lived because Nema came over to use the internet and tell me that the dentist, Tsolo, who was also working at the health department, asked all of us gadat-huns (foreign people, literally “outside people”) over for TS. So away we went. I decided to wear my new “stylish deel” because it was more comfortable and I felt like wearing it at least once.
Hospital greeting! One of these things is not like the other...
Hahahaha :)

That afternoon was… umm. Let’s just say there were a couple bad decisions, mostly fueled by the two large bottles of vodka that the five of us consumed. I still don’t know how we did it. Afterwards we stumbled back to Todd’s to make more bad decisions, and it finally ended with Mogi and Nema walking me back before they went off to visit friends. Let’s just say I couldn’t get outta bed Sunday, and didn’t make it to work Monday. Bleh. Never again. A big part of that, though, was my back hurt from the weird positions I was doing while taking all the photographs during TS. …I realize that last sentence could have been really bad if I didn’t specify the photo thing.
Bottoms up, boys!
Anyway. That was pretty much the end of TS in Baruun-Urt. I was invited to a couple homes this past weekend, but luckily it was informal. More pictures on that later because these past couple weekends were a hoot!

Some other pictures:
Mogi's family and friends- his dad is the on of the right.
The scarves he has on is all the Nadaam prizes he's won with his prize horses!
Nema and his mom!
Traditional Greeting
...another toast??
I reaaally liked her deel.
Snuff Bottle
Snuff bottle passing! And Mongolians smiling! What else could you want?!
Two Emees
Suvdaa's mom and her sister. So cute. :)

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