Muttony Buutz, Vodka, and What in the world are we wearing?

Wednesday night marked the beginning of our first big holiday in Mongolia: Цагаан сар (Tsagaan Sar). It’s known as White Month, and it marks the start of the Lunar New Year. This weekend we made our way into the Year of the Rabbit, and like all good Mongolians, Chris and I rang in the rabbit in style.

When we arrived in Mongolia nearly 6 months ago, we stayed at a guesthouse known as the Lotus Guesthouse. We were told that it benefited a local orphanage (fittingly enough known as the Lotus Children’s Center), but we never learned much more than that. Well, Thursday we finally paid a much overdue visit to the orphanage to hang out with the kids and celebrate Tsagaan Sar.

It turned out to be a great day full of coloring in pictures, making balloon animals, and – the biggest hit of all – molding bouncing balls for the kids with a kit sent to us by Chris’s mom at Christmas. I don’t have any pictures of the bouncy ball process, but hopefully I can get some soon from another gal who visited the kids with us. In the meantime, here’s some photos of us and the kiddies having a heck of a time with the giant balloons.

Friday we went for a little hike in the hills – nothing too adventurous. Then Saturday began the big day of visiting our Mongolian friends for Tsagaan Sar celebrations.

We put on our finest, and out the door we went to meet up with our friends. Boy oh boy, did we look good:

We’re wearing traditional Mongolian deels (pronounced dells, spelled deels). You can imagine Christopher’s delight at the realization that when both of us are wearing them, they can be referred to as our deels, or for those clever folks, Aardals. That fact alone is good for hours of entertainment.

Our first stop of the day was our language school teacher’s house. She lives right by where I work, so we hopped on the bus and arrived to her home in no time. Her husband greeted us and asked us to take a seat around the table covered in meat (beef and horse), salads (though not a piece of lettuce in sight), candy, cookies, and vodka. Sit we did, and feast we did.

Then it was back on the bus, home for a little rest, and off to the next house: my coworker from Bayanzurkh.

Her house was much the same as the first stop, the only difference being there were more Mongolians and fewer foreigners, and there was more – much more – vodka. Tsagaan Sar food is focused around buutz, little mutton-filled steamed dumplings, and vodka, and I have to admit that I was (pleasantly) surprised at how much other food there was as well. We had been warned time and time again that we would eat a nauseating amount of buutz and drink heaps of vodka; I will say that we ate a few buutz and drank some vodka, but nowhere near to the extent that I feared…which was a relief!

Today marks the final day of formal festivities, but from what we have heard people continue celebrating and visiting families for the rest of the month. For us it’s back to reality tomorrow as we return to our first full week of work in almost a month. Something tells me that it will be a rude awakening!

On a happy note, the temperature has turned markedly spring-like here in the past few days. We hover close to freezing throughout the day – colder at night of course – and it feels like there could be an end in sight. That said, these temperatures are unseasonably warm, so more than likely we will be back in the familiar frigid temps soon enough, but for now it is something to enjoy. Perhaps we can weather a Mongolian winter after all.

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