by Tara Munch
It is late Friday night and I have just gotten back from my first Mongolian party. The party was given by the deputy director of the school. Tuul, who basically holds the place together. It was quite an experience and since I want to remember everything I think that I will try to write about it before I go to bed.
I went with a friend of mine. We first went across the street to the tiny store to get drinks as it was BYOB. There is no coke to be found in the city and as I am sick of water I thought that I would bring wine. This of course prompted twenty minutes starring at the wines with my friend. For all that there are huge areas in the store with nothing in them the aisle (one of three) dedicated to alcohol was very well stocked. I ended up with a white wine from South Africa which cost 8700 Tugrig or about $8. I must be really stupid because I am still handling the money as if I was an 8 year old counting out pennies for a candy bar after school. There aren’t any coins and the bills range from 20,000 to 10.
Needless to say anytime that I want to buy something I have to go through each and every bill turning it over (the number is only on one side) and trying to figure out if it is enough. I usually pull out 10,000 notes and pay with those rather that attempt to count out my smaller bills which could take the better part of a decade. My new strategy for getting rid of those pesky bills is to count out enough for taxi rides and give the whole wad to the driver. It is the equivalent of paying with pennies. The best part is that the taxi drivers don’t want to count it so they usually let me go without giving me a hard time.
But moving on the party... Or rather my attempts to get to the party... Trudi had been near Tuul’s house before but after we got the taxi to the general area we were a bit lost. We got out of the taxi and started to wander about looking for the party. 15 minutes later we are still lost and on the phone trying to get directions when we are
picked up by a coworker and saved. Or so we thought, she was as lost as we were. It took Tuul standing outside of her house and waving to us (actually for quite a long time) before we figured out where we were supposed to be.
Hospitality is very very important here. It is s big deal and pretty much everyone who works at the school was there. Mongolian hospitality is legendary - you don’t stand a chance to refuse koumiss or any other traditional foods. I managed to get away with only eating a mashed potato filled dumpling. It was good. I am still being too picky about food and meat here. Anyway the food today was sort of moot as next came the vodka. The non-optional vodka. Shots of it. I hadn’t realized that vodka tastes so much like medicine. I tried to avoid it by pretending to drink. This would have worked it I hadn’t gotten caught up in a conversation and accidentally taken a huge swig of it thinking that it was my water. Fun surprise. Needless to say the rest of the evening is slightly blurry. I really wanted a blanket and couldn’t find one (people in Togiak, you know why)
Then came the singing. Actually it took up the rest of the evening. I was told before coming here that when you go to someone’s house you are expected to sing. It’s true. It was like the Mongolian version of Karaoke. Group karaoke. There was someone playing the guitar (he took requests) and everyone else was gathered around the living room singing. It was surprisingly entertaining. Mongolians can SING. Of course for the first part the songs were in Mongolian. But then the songs switched to English as the group wanted to make sure that all the teachers had sufficiently humiliated themselves.
Therefore we had to sing. Even though the songs were in English I still didn’t know the words making it necessary for me to mouth nonsense in order to fake it! It was still fun, especially when two of the Mongolian teachers started to act out and dance to the next few Mongolian songs. If my interpretations are correct the song was about cattle roping. Either that or a woman really really desperate for a husband…
I went home right as the silver bowl of (again non optional) vodka was being passed around.