Tuesday, January 10, 2017

So This is the New Year

Prior to the New Year, Sally and I attended our teachers’ Шинэ Жил parties (шинэ жил –shin jill—new year). This is the fourth and last teachers’ party we will attend with our school teachers. By now, we are Mongolian party going experts. We know what to expect, how much to drink, when to drink more, etc… Attending our last big Mongolian teachers’ party is a milestone that reiterates how soon it will all be over.

Sally and I will coworkers at our separate Шинэ Жил parties.

In the early hours of the morning of the 31st of December, Sally and I called in to my family reunion. The purpose of this gathering was to celebrate my grandfather and great uncle’s 90th birthdays. Sally and I were passed around between a number of extended family and even able to participate in the family photograph via iPad. This experience was surreal, to pose for a picture on a smartphone knowing that a dozen or more people are at your sides, but not really, since you are still on a couch 7,000 miles away.  In any case, Happy Birthday Grandpa Jack! We won’t miss your centennial!
Grandpa is on Sally and I's left. 

            On New Year’s Eve, Sally and I repeated a tradition from last year. We went to our sitemate Kyra’s ger to enjoy the warmth of a wood burning stove and celebrate the end of 2016. Around 12:40 the fireworks started, so we stepped outside into the -20 degree (F) winter to watch. Kyra lives in the ger district with a host family, so her ger is part of a larger fenced in yard. The whole district is plots of wooden fences sprinkled with gers and rough wooden houses. Coal and wood fires provide warmth for these structures that don’t have internal water or heat.

           Standing in the yard, we looked out over the surrounding district and watched fireworks erupt throughout the city. Some were momentary bursts of colors over individual хаашаа(haashaa-fenced in yards). The displays closer to the city center were larger. We stood underneath a thousand stars watching the lights from all directions breathing in the crisp Mongolian air. I don’t know why the fireworks started early. My guess is that somewhere a father finally gave into his children, and then a dozen other fathers gave in, and the world was alight with celebration.

            It is difficult to capture the feelings of watching a second New Year’s conflagration in a foreign country. There’s the “Holy crap, last year we were here… We’re still here...” or the reality of “We’re going home this year.”  In May of 2015, we boarded a plane for the unknown. Every new experience was shocking and interesting. Now it is January of 2017. The mystery of Mongolia is gone and watching the fireworks over the ger district seems normal and familiar. While time has passed, it doesn’t always feel like it has, but the reality of seeing our families after a two year separation will drive home the passing of time. Family have grown older. Dogs have died. Such is life, and here we stand on our second January in Mongolia.

“So this is the New Year,
And I don’t feel any different…
I wish the world was flat like the old days
Then i could travel just by folding a map
No more airplanes, or speed trains, or freeways
There'd be no distance that could hold us back.”

“The New Year” Death Cab for Cutie

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