It was a pretty typical day. I worked my normal 9-5 at the orphanage, and after I got off work I was planning to go to a cultural awareness get together at the Projects Abroad office, but what I wasn't expecting was torrential rain! When I went to work in the morning there wasn't a cloud in the sky, but around 1 pm a crazy storm blew in and I didn't have my umbrella! So I ran home in the down pour while wearing my scrubs, in the hopes that somehow that would protect me from the rain a little (my thought process was not very sound). When I got home, it was the first time no one from my host family was home to open the door, so I got to use my key for the first time! Milestones! No biggie, right? Wrong. I tried to unlock my apartment for a full ten minutes before giving up and deciding I would just have to take all of my work stuff with me to the projects abroad office. I found out later that I simply wasn't shoving the lock hard enough. Silly Isobel. So since I couldn't unlock my apartment to change or grab my umbrella, I arrived at the P.A. office just a little sopping wet :)
At the cultural awareness get together, I met all the volunteers who had arrived within the last couple weeks. I think there were about 10-15 of us, and for the most part we're all from different countries, so as we went through this little questionnaire (religious beliefs, concept of beauty, familial roles, etc.) it was very interesting to see how different or similar all of our cultures are.
Sunday! I went to church! Actually, I didn't. I'm so bad. Instead of going to church, all of the volunteers were taken about an hour and a half into the countryside to experience a mini Naadam (pronounced nod-uhm) festival. We all got to ride a horse and a yak, and kill it at archery (but not in a good way). Then there was dancing and traditional Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery.
After we left the mini Naadam, we all went to a surprisingly amazing vegan place with a really cringe name about loving everyone. It definitely didn't convert me to veganism, but I would definitely eat that food again. I had vegan Khuushuur, which is a very traditional meal, but usually with meat. I had the normal Khuushuur today, because that's the traditional food that Mongolians eat specifically on Naadam. Meat or vegan, it was AMAZING. I'm really going to miss Mongolian food when I go home.
Naadam! Naadam means "feast of sports", and it is the Mongolians second largest holiday, second only to the lunar new year. Naadam dates all the way back to the 13th century, so it's kind of a big deal.
Naadam starts with a ceremonial parade called "Yesun Hult Tsagaan Tug". Basically there's a lot of chanting, marching, and a large band playing, as nine banners, that apparently represent the nine mongol tribes, are carried around Chinggis Khan Square, then to Naadam stadium.
After the nine banners are brought to the stadium, the president gives a speech and the party starts! It's kind of hard to follow along with the story being told in the Naadam opening ceremony if you don't speak Mongolian, but from what we could tell they were basically acting out Chinggis Khan's life story. It was very interesting and cool, and I'm basically in love with Mongolian music and dancing.
Mongolian wrestlers wear a very interesting outfit. Basically a pair of underwear, an oddly made vest thing, and really kicking boots. And all of the wrestlers have GINORMOUS thighs. Just saying.
Mongolian wrestling seems very ceremonial. When the enter the wrestling area the walk slowly and circle with their arms slowly moving up and down, kind of like they're getting ready to fly away, then they slap their thighs repeatedly which is mildly amusing. When they actually wrestle, anything is fair game except for the head. If you can get your opponent's knee, elbow, head, or whole body to touch the ground, you win. The winner and loser then do this thing where the stretch their arms out to each other and circle each other with the loser going under the winners outstretched arm. Then they both do the circle-bird-flap thingy and walk off the field.
In Naadam there are 1024 wrestlers from all over the country, and they are slowly eliminated through ten rounds that I think last the whole three days of Naadam.
Horse racing is categorized by the age of the horse, so younger horses go shorter distances than older ones. All of the horses are ridden by jockeys aged 5-13. It's pretty impressive to see little tiny kids riding a horse like it's nothing. They basically look like they were born on a horse, which is especially impressive to someone who has barely ridden before.
Archers are divided by gender and into teams of ten. That's basically all I know :D
More to come! I've been trying to put pictures up, but the internet isn't always the best, so stay tuned.