The last day of June was very eventful. After language class I went home for lunch, and my host mom told me we would be going to a relative’s house for their son’s hair-cutting ceremony and lunch. Now, I only get an hour and a half for lunch break, including travel time, so when we didn’t even leave our house until almost halfway into my break (which was also about 15 minutes later than I was told we would be leaving—gotta love Mongolian time!) I was very worried that I would be late for technical session (which is a big no-no). Luckily the relative’s house is really close to the school, so I was able to stay for the ceremony and get plenty to eat for lunch.
In Mongolia, a male child’s first haircut is performed when he is 1, 3, or 5 years old, and a female child’s is performed when she is 2 or 4 years old. This explains why basically all the toddler boys I’ve seen here have long hair—they don’t cut it before then. The hair-cutting ceremony symbolizes good karma, luck, and health, the transition from infancy to childhood, and (for girls) their future beauty.
The ceremony itself involved cutting off locks of the kid’s hair. The mom held the kid while they went around to all the guests, and each person took the scissors, cut off a lock of hair, put the hair in a little bag, picked up a bowl of milk tea, drank a sip from the bowl, then put it to the kid’s mouth for him to drink a sip, then handed the kid some money and said something to him in Mongolian that I didn’t understand. I even got to participate, which was cool except that I was one of the last people and the kid was getting fussy and wouldn’t drink from the damn bowl. Oh, and I got my first taste of airag (fermented mare’s milk), which is exactly as tasty as it sounds. But the food itself was good, and I even made it back to class in time!
When I went home that day after technical session, I was home alone. My host mom had told me they would all be at the river and told me where to find the house key. About 45 minutes after I got home, my host dad suddenly appeared and asked me if I wanted to go to the river. I know the river is the place to hang out, but I had no idea what they were doing there for hours on end. So I got in the truck with my host dad, an aunt I’d seen several times, and a younger man I’d never seen before (who I later found out is my host mom’s younger brother). We proceeded to drive around town for half an hour, stopping to get gas and some snacks from a store, and finally we headed towards the river. But we didn’t stop at the edge of town where everyone else hangs out. We drove to the other side of the river and continued several miles upstream, off-roading the whole way. We finally managed to find where the rest of the family was, and I finally discovered what it is they were doing at the river for so long: washing rugs! Most Mongolian houses have linoleum floors with giant rugs covering parts of it. So my family had taken all of the rugs in our house, along with the rugs in the other couple houses in our hashaa, and I’m guessing rugs from some other relatives’ houses because there was a total of like 14 rugs there, which is way more square footage than would fit in all 3 houses in our hashaa combined. So I got to help clean the last few with the other family members and relatives who were there.
How do you wash a rug, you ask?
First, you lay it down right along the river bank. Then someone goes into the river with a bucket and throws buckets full of water onto the rug. Next you sprinkle a bunch of detergent on the wet rug and scrub it with brushes for a long time, occasionally adding water to help rinse some of the dirt out. Then you use a squeegee to press most of the soapy water out of the rug. And then several people drag the rug into the river to rinse it out. Once it’s been rinsed, you roll it up, take it out of the river, go lay it down and unroll it in a grassy area, and squeegee it again to get some of the water out. Repeat, occasionally breaking for snacks, volleyball, and badminton. Once it starts getting dark and the bugs start eating you alive, roll the rugs back up, pack them into the truck, and head home, where you find somewhere outside to hang them while they finish drying.