March 8th was International Women’s Day. Many of you have probably never heard of International Women’s Day (IWD), as it’s not really celebrated in much of the world outside of Asia, Eastern Europe, and a few random countries in Africa. In Mongolia, IWD is an official holiday. But of course, it was on a Sunday this year, so we didn’t get a day off work or anything.
The Saturday before IWD, however, the men who work at our health department (all 6 of them) put together a nice little dinner party for the 20-some women of the health department. We were each given a red rose:
and the men prepared a bunch of food for us:
I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to seeing women, all dressed up, gnawing chunks of meat off the bone until it’s dry. I was scolded for leaving some “meat” (which was really fat and ligaments and other stuff I won’t eat) on my bone, so I said I wasn’t very hungry (which was true).
And then there was the vodka. All the vodka. I was offered–I kid you not–10 shots of vodka. Ten. Granted, the shot glasses were on the smaller end so it was more like 5 actual “units” of alcohol or whatever, but still. That in addition to the 2 glasses of wine they served. After the fifth or so shot that was offered to me, I started sneakily filling my glass with the white grape juice that we also had. Then when one of the guys came around with the vodka bottle, I showed him that I already had some and proceeded to drink it, even pulling the old bleh-vodka-it-burns face to really sell the act. But I eventually ran out of grape juice, as I was drinking tons of it to stave off intoxication. For the last couple shots I was offered, I just flat out refused to drink them. My coworkers know I don’t like to drink a lot (especially not vodka), but it was a celebration, and they were insistent. I might have offended some of them, but I know–and they should know, being health workers and all–that alcohol is a huge problem here in Mongolia, and I certainly don’t want to encourage or be part of that excessive drinking culture.
After eating, the men sang karaoke for us, the party eventually turning into drunken singing and chatting. I ended up leaving early because I still needed to pick up some groceries and bring wood into my ger. This also may have offended some people–or maybe they were too drunk to notice–but I live alone, in a ger, which is a lot of work, with no family to help out like Mongolians have (Mongolians never live alone).
But it was still a nice day and I did have fun.
Then, a couple weeks later (March 18th to be exact), there was Soldiers’ Day, the anniversary of the founding of Mongolia’s modern military. It is also known as Men’s and Soldiers’ Day because it is celebrated as the male version of Mongolia’s Women’s Day.
There is an army base here in Uliastai, but it’s in a part of town not exactly close to where I live or work, so I didn’t see what they had going on. But I did see the police force having a ceremony outside the government building as I was leaving a meeting. And for lunch that day at the health department, the women prepared a nice big meal of the the exact same thing we had eaten for Women’s Day. There was less vodka, however, or maybe I just went back to my office before they had brought out all the bottles.
The following Saturday, the health department workers went to the nice Korean restaurant in town to have the big celebration for Soldier’s Day, but my stomach had been kind of messed up all week and I didn’t want to irritate it more with spicy Korean food, so I had to skip out on that. Maybe that’s where the rest of the vodka went…