Archive for January, 2009

Happy New Year–a little belated

New Year’s started 13 hours earlier in my part of the world than for most of those who read this blog. I discovered it’s a bigger event here than I realized. I was invited to celebrate New Year’s at the home of one of my English students who celebrated Obama’s victory with me. I call her Nancy. I had been to her home a few weeks earlier. She had sent me a text message asking me to her home after work one day but never told me where she lived. Finally, she texted (cell phone message) me an address but that didn’t help much—there are few street or house number signs. At that time my co-workers helped me get a taxi that drove all around the area, stopping to ask at food shops until we finally located her home. We had a good time that evening and then Nancy and her husband walked me home—total darkness no streetlights, s so I had no idea of the route we took.

New Year’s Eve I was in the same predicament but fortunately found someone again who would take me there—though we went through the same driving up and down streets, asking people, stopping in food shops—and finally found the house, or rather ger. Nancy lives in a ger with her husband and 5-month-old son. In the same hosha her husband’s brother lives with his wife and 3 daughters in a wooden house and other family members live in another ger. The last time I had visited them was memorable because I had held the baby and it peed on me. Babies generally don’t wear diapers—I will explain how that works in another blog. That time, I was relieved when the father noticed and took the baby from me. Needless to say, I was a little surprised when he simply wiped it off and handed the baby right back to me! Fortunately, the baby got hungry and I could pass him along to his mother to nurse.

I’ll post pictures of the ger—it’s furnished very traditionally. A stove in the middle and a low table near it and everything else is up against the ger walls. The furniture is always highly decorated. There is a certain order to how one arranges the furniture in a ger—each area is associated with an animal and has a certain purpose. At New Year’s, traditional Mongolian food is served: buuz and other favorite items. I’ll include a photo of what the table looks like. The shops have been very busy as people stock up. Everyone buys a cake—or torte as they call it. You’ll see the frosting decorations on it, not real whipped cream but quite fancy. Nancy speaks enough English words so we can communicate to a certain extent. The rest of the family speaks little or none. I had brought my family photo album as well as my camera—which gives us something to look at together and something for me to try to explain.

I arrived about 7 and wondered how we would pass the time until midnight but people come and go and get served buuz and drinks and candy. Gifts are given (I brought a jar of what is call fruit compote—but it’s really just canned fruit—I chose apricots. I also brought a bag of chocolate chip cookies that I had made. Gifts are also given to guests—a candy bar, some pieces of candy, sometimes a small amount of money. Around 10, Nancy looked up the word in the Mongol/English dictionary for “passing the night” and I gathered she was suggesting I stay overnight. Seemed like a good idea to me, so I called Bold and Tsermaa (I live in half their house) and Nancy explained I was staying overnight with her. Just before midnight, we began to hear the fireworks. There are no windows in a ger, just a type of skylight, so we all rushed outside and I tried to take pictures with my camera that has a “fireworks” setting. It’s hard when they’re going off all around you! Fireworks here are legal, and everybody has them. People buy these long tubes and light one end and point it at the sky. Seems to work.

After the fireworks quieted down we went next door to the brother’s and there was another table all set with buuz and drinks and candy and a “torte.” And we started all over again. I am always given the chair of honor, generally being the oldest person present, and everyone else sits on little stools or a child’s chair or the floor. This time, the brother and my friend Nancy’s husband brought out their snuff bottles. (If you weren’t sure, snuff is smokeless tobacco.) They offered them to each person. The person sniffs around the cap and then sometimes takes off the cap of the bottle. Attached inside is a short rod with a tiny flat scoop at the end. You try to scoop a bit of snuff onto the flat piece and touch it to each nostril and then close up the bottle and hand it back. Some people just sniff around the cap and hand it back. I think it’s more ceremony than anything else because no one actually sneezed though they know that’s what it is supposed to do. At every celebration, vodka is present. Someone is in charge of the bottle (or bottles) and pours everyone a drink. Men usually down it in one gulp. Women usually take a tiny sip or just touch it to their lips. Glasses are refilled continuously by the host, even if it’s only a symbolic few drops to top it off. This process continues throughout the evening although I’m glad to say no one I was with seemed too much affected by the drink. It would be considered rude to refuse it. More people arrived and food and drink was shared and finally, Nancy indicated we were going back to the ger—around 2. I was ready for bed—but when we got into the ger, her husband indicated we would just wait until the other guests left and then we would go back to party and dance! Once again I was the disco queen and finally got to bed at 4 in the morning.

There were 2 beds in the ger. I slept in one– a wooden platform with a mat on it, pretty hard, and my blankets were several heavy deels. Nancy, her husband and the baby (who is swaddled) slept in the other side of the ger. The ger was not too cold when I went to sleep. Unfortunately, I had to get up twice during the night to use the outhouse and it was really chilly out there with some snow coming down. Very refreshing. The good part was that I could stay in bed in the morning until they got a fire going and warmed up the ger. We got up around 11 and after tea and leftover cake I went home.

Shortly after I got home, Tsermaa called and invited me to come and have buuz. When I arrived, my supervisor Saraa was there, her father, and others of Bold and Tsermaa’s family. Once again, food is shared and vodka poured by the host. They played a game of dominoes that I am not familiar with and I played too but with help. Tried to figure out the rules but I think I’ll need a little more practice. Finally, guests began to leave and I went back to my side of the house. A busier New Year’s than I’ve had in a long time, but celebrating it Mongolian style was fun.

As usual, double click on photos to get a larger version.  Enjoy.

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January 15, 2009 at 2:49 am Leave a comment


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