I was sitting in my apartment when my co-worker called me.
“I need a stove shelf,” she informed me.
I was confused, so I told her to come over. It turns out she wanted one of my baking racks. She told me that today would be her daughter’s hair cutting ceremony. I had heard stories of this ceremony before, so I asked what time it was. She invited me over, but as it turned out, I could only stay for half an hour because I had to teach that afternoon.
Once children in Mongolia reach a certain early age, it’s time for them to get a haircut. It is used to signal the shift from being a baby to becoming a child. It is also, if memory serves correct, the child’s first haircut. Everyone who knows that child, and people who may tangentially know them, are the lucky barbers.
I knocked on the door and entered. I was greeted by her two young daughters, met her parents, in-laws, and brother. It seemed to be a small family affair, which ran contrary to what I heard about how these were run. Usually, the family invites tons of people. Why? Because they all offer gifts to the lucky child, which are usually anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000 tugruk (10k or 20k being the norm).
We took turns grabbing a chunk, clumsily slicing through it with our khadag-laced scissors, depositing the hair in a designated bag, and offering our gift to the young girl. I wasn’t sure how it would go down; I recall stories of children kicking and screaming upon their first haircut. My customer, however, seemed elated.
The food was a colorful cornucopia of mainly meat dishes. There was vegetable cake, which, of course, contained mutton, mutton meatball soup, mutton legs and ribs, and a wonderful tower of bread I always saw in pictures, but never in person.
I also drank this curious gold liquid from a bronze bowl. Her husband handed it to me. I asked her what it was.
“It’s oil and milk,” she said, “Mongolians like it.”
I drank a sip, and the grease from the milk fat and oil caused me to salivate in displeasure. I should always be more careful when people tell me Mongolians like something I am about to consume.
I stood up and excused myself in broken Mongolian, leaving the happy family to continue their celebration. Most hair cutting ceremonies usually involve quite a bit of alcohol, but this one seemed much more tame, with the only alcohol to be seen being fermented mare’s milk.
30 minutes isn’t nearly enough time to truly experience something like this, but I am glad I was able to take part for the brief time I was there.