Saturday, August 13, 2011

August 11: Trapped in a Mongolian wedding

Today we had a more relaxed day planned for us.

In the morning, after a breakfast of rice and mutton (surprise!) and milk tea, we walked through the village – our unofficial “tour”. We saw 2 gas stations, the governor’s greenhouses (which is why the odd cucumber and carrot has appeared on our plates, from time to time), the local hospital, school and bank.

What struck me as odd is the number of abandoned buildings. For example, the governor’s offices recently built a new building (which is where we have been having our meetings with the CU management) for its offices and abandoned the old building across the road. There is also an abandoned restaurant a few doors down.

Additionally, we were told that the majority of post offices in Mongolia’s smaller villages are now going bankrupt – because of the widespread us of cell phones. Everyone has a cell phone! Even during our meeting with the CU’s management team yesterday, it seemed as though someone’s cell phone was ringing or beeping or buzzing every few minutes.

So I expect there will be an abandoned post office in the near future as well.

After our tour, we were due to attend a wedding ceremony at 11am. The bride and groom’s parents were CU members, and had invited us to participate. So Karen and I were dressed up in “dales” (traditional Mongolian attire) and driven over to the parents’ home with Tuul.

During the first day of the ceremony, only the close family attends. The entire ceremony takes place inside the family’s ger (which I imagine was specifically built for the wedding, since they also owned a small brick home) and approx. 80 people all cram into the small tent to watch, eat, drink and sing throughout the entire day.

When we first got there, a long procession of gifts was flowing into the ger. Every family attending traditionally brings a cured sheep to give to the young couple. And when I say “sheep” I mean “sheep” – the entire sheep, and nothing but the sheep. The whole sheep is carried into the ger on a large wooden board, with the head resting on top. When we first poked our heads into the ger, we must have seen 25 sheep laid across the floor on the left side. The right side was filling quickly with other gifts: flat screen TV’s, rugs, glassware, ceramics. Someone later mentioned that they had brought a washing machine for the couple, but it was too big to bring into the ger.

We had to wait until the gift-giving was over and everyone had arrived before the cermony was to begin. After an hour of sitting in our car, we were told to again enter the ger. By now, all of the sheep and gifts had been cleared out and there were some benches and small stools set up to accommodate the guests. We got prime seats, near the front of the ger – behind the bride’s mother.

The ceremony began with a blessing of the ger. A man chanted traditional words and gently touched the walls, ceiling and floor of the ger with a sheeptail-staked stick. Then there was some traditional singing. The entire time, a few girls were passing bowls of airag around to everyone. We would sip our of politeness, and pass our bowl back to the girl.
--Ramune Jonusonis

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