Happy belated Women’s Day! March 8th was International Women’s Day, which is very much celebrated in Mongolia. In the States, only pinkos and commies care to recognize a day that honors and celebrates the gender most often under-represented, under-served, and misunderstood around the world, but here it’s different.
The holiday is a national one, so banks, schools and government offices are closed. Luckily got to celebrate for two days! On Tuesday, March 6th the matriarch of my Mongolian family to-be, Emee (“grandmother” in Mongolian) was given an award for being one of Mongolia’s herdswomen of the year. Emee’s had this honor several times over the years, and proudly displays her plaques, medals and certificates in her ger in the countryside. The ceremony was in Ulaanbaatar, and most of the family couldn’t attend, so they threw a party for her the following day.
I was part of the set-up crew. Men and women worked together to turn a small rural-district restaurant into a reception hall. Fresh fruit, heaps of candy, a never ending supply of vodka, and a 3 tiered cake were set up for special guests and honorees.
As people started to trickle in they were seated according to gender and then age, eldest sitting closest to the woman of the hour, women to her left and men to her right. I didn’t expect to be seated at all, since most of the set-up crew were on their feet serving guests, but I was told to climb past the elder men already seated and take a seat of honor at the head of the table with Emee. It was a complete surprise and totally, completely humbling. One dude was NOT happy about it, but favorite elder cousin Matchika defended me and shielded my from his stink eye.
The next few hours were a blur of Mongolian food, shot glasses that magically refilled themselves, toast after toast after toast, songs about Mongolian mothers, more vodka, songs about Mongolia, some beer, presents for Emee, and toasts with airag – fermented mare’s milk. The night ended with karaoke, as all celebrations should. Songs were sung in Mongolian, Russian and English.
I spent the next day (the actual holiday) pretty hungover, but with no women’s work to do, so it was the best kind of recovery day. I walked around the neighborhood a bit – I still had an evening English class to teach – and almost everyone out and about was carrying flowers, cake or gifts for an important woman in their life. It gave me the warm fuzzies on a cold day. The holiday is a bit commercial, but here that means a $20 dinner for 2 or a $10 cake. I’m ok with that since the sentiment is still there, and despite the evidence of commericialism, the importance of celebrating of women in Mongolian society isn’t diminished by it.
In case you were wondering, dudes get their day here too. Just last weekend it was soldier’s day. There are female soldiers in Mongolia, but this is pretty much a day to bro down. Naadam, in July, is a celebration of the “three manly sports”. It all kind of works out…