I was invited to a hair cutting ceremony today. You may ask how did that come about? I honestly couldn’t tell you. There was an invitation that was sent to Trudi , that included me , from a woman who might work in our building with Trudi ' s housekeeper. I think I was referred to as the " little one " . It was one of those things that you just can ' t miss.
The ceremony was held in a ger that is right behind my building. I hadn’t actually been in a ger that people live in all the time before and so found everything about it really interesting. They had electricity but no running water. I saw one of the aunts doing dishes on top of the coal stove and vowed never again to complain about having to do dishes.
Let me explain the haircutting ceremony. Or try to. As usual I don’t entirely understand what I am talking about. The ceremony symbolizes the end of "babyhood" and the transition to "childhood". It usually happens when the child is between the ages of 2 and 6. This is the child ' s first haircut. I think that Eshliin was 2 or 3. The transition from babyhood was and is so important in Mongolian traditional culture because babyhood, especially for children in the countryside who live far from modern medical facilities, is a risky time. Many herding families have little to no access to medical facilities. The hair-cutting ceremony is a ritual held, in part, for that purpose. Traditionally, a lama would tell the parents which year is best for their child, and many families still consult lamas for this purpose. The family that I was with did this. Ljibileg (the child aunt) told me that there are only a few days a year when it is best to make big changes such as the haircutting ceremony or getting married and this happened to be one of them.
Cutting the hair of the involves all the guests. Eshliin (who was seriously cute) was moved from guest to guest carrying a scissors and small bag. Well, It was really a long blue piece of cloth tied to the scissors and made into a crude pouch. Each guest took Eshliin into his or her lap and cut a small lock of hair with the scissors, stuffing the hair in the bag. I thought that she would be scared of me because she didn’t know me and I look so different but she was totally calm during the whole thing . In fact , she was extraordinarily well behaved about all the fuss. After you cut Eshliin hair you give her the gift you brought. Fortunately, for me I was told about this beforehand so I had cookies to bring her. She wasnt all that impressed with them. Trudi brought her a book that she had from Canada that went over much better. In fact I don’t think that she let go of it for a second after Trudi gave it to her.
"Haircutting" is a major event for a household, and as with all gatherings Mongolian involved a massive overabundance of food. All the same things as Tsagaan Sar including the requisite arosh (dried milk curd), potato salad, carrot salad, botz, fruits, and suutai tai (milk tea) as well as the whole boiled sheep. In addition this time I was offered and tried Airag which is fermented mares milk. I was warned about this making almost everyone vilely ill so I only had a few sips. A few sips was too muchI cant say that this is going to be something that I will be having all the time. Because it was Mongolia there were again the mandatory vodka shots coupled this time with mandatory whiskey and another drink with floating plums and berry like things floating in it that tasted like mulled cider. That was my favorite it was served warm and Eshliins father had made it himself and was very pleased that I liked it so much.
We were the only non Mongolians there so we were a curiosity. Everyone was very welcoming and the parents seemed really happy that we came. It is an interesting experience to be with a group of people who find you that fascinating. Somehow, I became the unofficial official photographer. I took pictures of Eshliin with her parents, her grandparents, her aunts and uncles and other people that I am not sure what their relationship to her was. I was taught how to take things from others in Mongolia (holding out right hand and holding right elbow with left hand) and how to greet people during Tsagaar Sar. This was from a very old man (his niece translated) who was very disappointed that young Mongolians don’t always know how to do it in this in the right way.
Eshliins father thanked us for coming at least three times and toasted us just as many times. This was one of the most interesting experiences that I have had yet in Mongolia. You read about the hospitality here all the time but I really hadnt been exposed to it before. Having people you dont know open their home to you and allowing you to take part in a very important ceremony in their child’s life is an oddly humbling experience. There are times in Mongolia when I feel completely disconnected with the country and the people , as if I am living here but not really living here at the same time. Today I got to be a part of the real Mongolia which just serves to remind me that there is more to the country than my ride to work