The 14th to be exact. I was kneeling beside my wooden table looking for something to watch on my computer, getting ready to settle in for the evening. In between the quiet clicking of my mouse I heard another noise, footfalls. I cringed in anticipation, seconds before the shuddering noise of my wooden door gave way through its wooden frame. It was Dakraa. “Come on Justin, lets go!” He waved out into the night not stepping from my door’s mat. With no heads up to this beckoning, I sat on the floor shirtless, in a messy ger, obviously not prepared to go anywhere. “Where?” was all I could seem to muster. “House party, come on, lets go!” So I threw on a shirt, my jacket, locked up my ger and we crossed through my hashaa gate. I sat shotgun in a SUV I didn’t recognize, and knowing Dakraa’s own vehicle sat in our yard crippled on three tires I asked, “Whose car is this?” He winked at me, “School director’s” then spun the wheel and jammed the gas and we accelerated down the dirt road towards a house well lit, with cars, motorcycles and horses tied up outside.
The party was already in full swing and it didn’t take me long to put the pieces together as Dakraa handed Enkhbaatar, my school director his keys back. Dakraa had not in fact committed grand theft auto but had been sent to fetch me. The house was teeming with people and tables laden with every Mongolian delicacy I knew. It was more like three separate parties, as not all the people could fit in any of the houses three tiny rooms, so tables were set up in each. So I sat down beside my schools computer teacher and one of my counterparts and servings of food and tea were given to me. My counterpart quickly explained to me that this just wasn’t any house party. It was a party literally to celebrate the building of a new house. When a family moves from their ger to a wooden house, the community celebrates this accomplishment with a big congratulatory ceremony.
So we ate, and ate, and ate. Eventually the man of the house came around passing out shot glasses, and began pouring shot after vodka shot. Clink, we toasted to happiness. Clink, we toasted to the family’s home. Clink, we toasted to the school. Clink, we toasted to the director. Clink, we toasted to Omnodelger. This went on for quite some time, with the host making sure everyone had finished their shot before he poured the next. Then everyone began to sing. Traditional and modern Mongolian songs echoed off of the house’s new walls. Eventually it turned into a competition between the three rooms. Each picking a song and belting it out as loud as they could to see if the room after theirs could match in volume and enthusiasm. The competition ended with forgotten words and lots of laughter. Next an ornate silver bowl was brought out filled with airag, the traditional Mongolian alcoholic drink of fermented mares milk. It was passed around the room the receiver having to stand up, take a sip from the bowl then lead the room in song. When the bowl was finally handed to me I nervously stood up. My school’s training manager sensed my hesitation and exclaimed, “To Justin’s new ger!” They all cheered and with a clink toasted and downed another shot. Touched that they were recognizing my new home as part of the celebration I mustered the Mongolian and confidence I had, took a sour faced sip of airag and lead them in singing “Ayani Shuwuud”, the Mongolian tune I helped perform at our swearing in ceremony. Hours went by and the revelry continued, finally everyone suddenly stood up and began gathering their coats and things. I got out of my seat, stretching my arms and blinking my tired eyes. This was when I learned the next stipulation to the housing ceremony tradition. October 14th was the traditional day to hold your housing ceremony. Throwing the celebration on this day ensures future good fortune and prosperity in your new home. As a result this wasn’t the only family who had recently finished a home….
I repeated this party scenario three more times that evening. More food, more drinking, more vodka, more singing. By 2am I was finally dropped off at my ger. I was stuffed, drunk, and exhausted, but the revelry had made me feel like a new part of the community, like I would really grow to love Omnodelger and its people. My fears of being alone wouldn’t seem bad at all with a new place to call home. I lay my head on my pillow and drifted off to sleep, with laughter and the clinking of glass ringing in my ears.