This week has been quite a busy one here in Mongolia- lots of new arrivals and plenty to do! We are also busying ourselves with preparations for the highlight of the Mongolian calendar- Naadam festival, which starts this Sunday!
Naadam is short for "eriin gurvan naadam" (эрийн гурван наадам) meaning "the three games of men". These three games are Mongolian wrestling, archery and horse racing. The festival will take place across the country for three days. We will be celebrating it in the bustling capital, Ulaanbaatar, where festivities are undoubtedly the biggest and most exciting!
All the volunteers and staff will squeeze ourselves into the National Sports Stadium for the Opening Ceremony on Sunday morning which promises to be a great event featuring dancers, athletes, horse riders, and musicians.
On Sunday afternoon we will go outside the city to watch the horseracing. Boys and girls aged 6-12 take part in the horse racing.
We are all looking forward to taking part in this festival, it has got to be one of the best times to be in this country!
One of the first things to strike me about the Mongolian people was their unconditional friendliness and warmth. Everywhere you go you are greeted by a smile, even if your conversation is limited to ‘hello’ (sain bainuu), ‘thank you’ (bayarlalaa), ‘sorry’ (uuchlaarai) and the numbers 1-5. My terrible pronunciation of Mongolian does not seem to matter though, and everyone, young and old is welcoming from the first instance. I wondered where they get this from, and then at the Gandan monastery, on my induction with the fabulous Saruul (Projects Abroad Project Supervisor), she told me a fairytale which may explain part of why the national psyche is so co-operative and helpful. The story is told to all children in Mongolia, from all religions, ethnicities and backgrounds.
One day, there were four friendly animals, namely an elephant, a monkey, a rabbit and a dove. They came across an apple tree. They all wanted an apple for themselves to satisfy their hunger; each animal tried to get an apple in turn, they reached and stretched but none could reach it alone. In the course of their efforts they had the idea to work together, starting at the bottom with the youngest of the four, the elephant, working their way up to the oldest, the dove. They stood on each others backs and found that by working as a team they could easily reach the fruit and they all had their share.
Another tale told to Mongolian children is one about an ancient Queen, an ancestor of Chingiss Khaan, named Alungua. She had 4 sons. As brothers do, they fought constantly among themselves. One day Alungua had had enough and taught them this lesson: she had each of them bring in an arrow from outside. Each boy did so. She then instructed them to break the arrow they were holding. Each boy did this with ease. Next, she asked them all to bring her another arrow, which they did. She gathered all 4 arrows and tied them together in a bundle. She then passed the bundle of arrows to each brother and told them to snap it in half. Of course not one of them could do it. The Queen had taught them that separately, we are weak and can be broken, but if we unite as one, we are indestructible. This tale is taken from A Secret History of Mongolia, a book written by an unknown author in 1241.
These two tales illustrate the teamwork that is shown again and again here in Mongolia. Across the vast countryside, families welcome you into their ger to offer you food and drinks as if you were old friends. This seems to be instilled in the nomadic communities; a lifestyle where interdependence is key to happiness and survival.
To me, this fundamental strength really makes Mongolia stand out as a comfortable place where you will meet many new friends (even if certain children do point and laugh at my red hair!)