A Mongolian wedding in Dalanzadgad

bride and groom

This lovely couple got married last Friday. And they did it accompanied by loud singing, blue scarfs and dairy liqueur.

When I walked into the Khasha it was very quiet. Only the extra cars hinted of guests. From the right I could hear a soft humming and when I came closer I heard the voices from inside the new ger. When I opened the door forty pair of eyes were staring my way. They all fitted on the 3 x 3 x pi = 28 square meter, sitting on two couches and a collection of stools that was as colourful as the dresses they wore. I was cheerfully greeted by the people I knew and urged to sit down. While I was getting adjusted two cousins handed out bowls of warm milk and soup.
The bride was beaming when I waved. The couple was wearing traditional dresses made from the same light fabric and matching dark blue hats. They were half hidden behind two complex stacks of bread and dairy treats. Around it bowls of fruit (bananas!) and bottles of wodka were neatly arranged. In front on a lower table two roasted sheep were laid out on carved wooden plateaus. The whole scene made a rich and official impression and I was glad that I had bought a dress to wear on this occasion.



Drinking and Singing

It was clear that the two men in the middle had a very important role. They were poring giant bowls of airak, tiny glasses of wodka and low bowls of distilled yoghurt. There were all kinds of ceremonial rules for drinking each one.
When you received a big bowl of airak you would usually only take a few sips. As the bowl was handed back it was immediately refilled, even though it was still completely full. Full plates and bowls are very important in Mongolia, even though it means spilling a bit on the floor.
Of course the wodka was meant to be swallowed in one sip, although I could get away with a blessing the first time and fake drinking the next. There is always pressure to drink especially from the men who pour it. I always say no in some semi-polite way but after ten or twenty times (not joking) I sometimes show my angry glance and raise my voice. Especially when it is shoved into my face. I guess coercion is not a bad word in Mongolian. Here however the two men dealt out wodka evenly and I think this made sure that no-one was getting very drunk.
The silver bowl of distilled camel or yak yoghurt smelled like old socks. The first time I drank half and the next few times I was happy to give it back after a fake sip.
There was one silver bowl of airak that the men would give to a specific person. That person would take a sip, said perhaps a few words and started singing. After the first line everyone who wished joined in. One or two songs and another sip later the bowl was handed back and the cycle repeated. On this wedding there were no awkward silences, tedious speeches or loud music. The room was filled with traditional songs and most people sang with pride and a musical tone. When the bowl came my way I sung a short Italian aria about love. With shaking hands I handed the bowl back (around the center poles, never through the middle!), spilled airak on the beautiful felt carpet and enjoyed my applause.

When everybody had initiated a song there was a break. People changed into something comfortable and chatted around the vegetable patch. The aunt was so kind to spend some time with me. She spoke English and told me about the importance of traditions.
The atmosphere was relaxed and the people friendly but after four hours it was time for me to get back to bed. I waved down a car and enjoyed the afterglow of a Mongolian wedding. Thank you Tzaja and family for a wonderful afternoon.

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