Hello there. We are spring-ing well in Erdenet, now that Tsagaan Sar has passed and winter is (officially, but probably not really quite) over. ‘Tis the greatest of follies to start bragging about how warm it is this soon, but whatever, it’s consistently above zero Fahrenheit and I ain’t been wearing my long johns for the last week and this is a glorious thing indeed.
Like my fellow member of the Peace Corps Mongolia Full Frame DSLR Ballers Club, I’m going to just go straight to the photos:
Here we have Bat-Erdene (far right), his family, and their alcohol- and animal-product-free Tsagaan Sar spread. They own a vegan cafe here in town that the Peace Corps Volunteers are constantly eating at (especially me; Bat-Erdene gave me some shit about how I get takeout buuz from his place just about every damn day), and it was a treat to visit them and eat of their delicious-ass food. Whenever I tell people that we visited a family for Tsagaan Sar that doesn’t consume vodka, meat, or dairy, they scoff and say, “They’re not real Mongolians.” Yeah well whatever, man.
This is Bat-Erdene’s daughter, who was too much of a diva to be in the family picture. Work it, girl.
Here is my coteacher Lhagva with the oldest resident of the 1st Microdistrict, i.e., her granny. Grams is 88 years old, has 40 great-grandchildren, and is the sweetest little old lady, so don’t be fooled by her Stoic Mongol Photo-Face. According to Lhagva, for the rest of the holiday, Grams delightedly informed all her guests about the foreigners that came by.
Lhagva’s niece and daughter, all dolled up for picture time.
There was a weird (but no longer surprising) moment when the mother of the girl in pink looked at the girls sitting together, let out a satisfied sigh, and said, “Brown and yellow!” She was referring to their skin tones, with “yellow” being the way people here describe caucasian-looking skin. If you’re a politically correct, liberal-arts type of whitey, this always makes for disorienting conversations that take you to the absolute frontier of what our kind are comfortable talking about:
Well, so, white people —
Wait, who are ‘white people?’
Oh! Uh, well, white people are people who look…like me? You know? With my skin color?
You’re not white! You’re yellow.
I’m yellow? Haha that’s funny because…oh jesus never mind.
Anyway. I could live here for 50 years and still not come close to understanding all of the cultural undercurrents running beneath that “brown and yellow,” but I’mma just go ahead and say that lady was being an a-hole. She also made a couple of loud, prideful comments about how her kids “look like Russians,” while Lhagva’s daughter just kinda sat there and squirmed and felt really good about herself, I’m sure.
Yes well enough about girl children and the slow, inevitable destruction of their self-esteem: Look at this! It’s my favorite photo from the holiday, because it has everything: Dude bringing it with his deel and his hat; TV with holiday programming on (i.e., people in traditional clothing striding around the countryside and singing); Chinggis Khaan’s family tree hanging on the wall; Mongolian flag in the corner; table piled with food and drink; traffic cops laughing at me for taking photos.
Thumbs up for Tsagaan Sar!
(Although I really want you to believe that Ryan and his boss are giving each other a mutual thumbs-up in this photo, I will tell you the truth: They’re playing a game kinda like rock-paper-scissors, except with fingers, where certain fingers “beat” other fingers)
(I lost a few seconds after this)
The haircutting ceremony. We actually got to do two of these in one day; the other kid was awake for her ceremony, which was much cuter. Her mom would hand her the scissors and a little bag for the money, and she would trot up to a guest and hold still while they cut off a bit of hair and gave her a crisp bill.
So that was the last official day of Tsagaan Sar. But wait! There’s more!
Here’s our department, visiting a retired Russian teacher for lunch one day last week.
We had Mongolian Deel Day at school, where everybody dressed up all nice and took millions of pictures and greeted each other with the traditional “Amar baina uu?”
This is Chunak Teacher, a notorious flirt and joker. We have this thing now where I’ll ask him, “Who do you love today, Teacher?” And he’ll say, “Only you, my darling. And our director.”
Our school’s carpenter and electrician. If you’re having trouble recognizing the guy on the right, it’s because he was wearing makeup the last time you saw him.
Me and my new boyfriend.
(My camera battery died right at the beginning of Mongolian Deel Day, which was a huge bummer. But, on the other hand, it was very satisfying to march into the training manager’s office the other day, thrust my flash drive in his face, and demand all his photos. If only I knew how to say “My, how the tables have turned”)
My supervisor, looking super cute. This shot is actually part of an ongoing video project we’re doing here in Erdenet, and it will be amazing, I mean it already is amazing, it’s pretty much all we think about these days and don’t worry, you won’t miss it, because we will be obnoxiously posting it all over the internet when it’s finished.
And here’s my supervisor again, hosting the English teachers at her home, handing around some fermented mare’s milk.
On the way out, I was thanking her and her husband for inviting me, and the other teachers started teasing me. “Ask Batja when she’ll invite you again!” they said. “Ask her! Ask her!” Batja grinned and said, “You guys can come to my home on Women’s Day. We’ll have a big party.”
But Women’s Day is this Thursday, and so I shan’t be coming to the party, because I’ll be at the airport picking up our visitors! Megan and Jay, if you want to be greeted with a big bowl of fermented mare’s milk, just let me know, I’ll make it happen.