Friday was Women’s Day, an international holiday that I had never heard of until I came to a country that actually celebrated it. In honor of the occasion, there was no school that day – or postal service, or anything else done by an employee of the government.
In addition to canceling classes on Friday, my school had half-classes the day before. This allowed us to finish teaching around noon so that we could all prepare for the evening. The women went to salons and each other’s houses to gussy up while the men prepared a party for us. At 4:30, the women of my school, myself included, regrouped at a café to hear a lecture of some kind. I don’t really know what it was about, since I was only able to catch a few words here and there. I do know that the words I heard most often were “woman” and “mother,” and also that the speech made almost everyone cry. After the speech, a few toasts, and the reading of a poem about almost ever teacher (I didn’t get one, but that’s just as well, since I wouldn’t have understood it anyway), we headed off to the party.
This is the fourth teachers’ party I have attended in the past 2.5 months, and I confess, I’m not really looking forward to the Men’s Day party next Sunday. These parties are pretty much all the same, regardless of occasion: you get together around a large table covered with baskets of fruit and candy and bottles of alcohol and listen while the people around you make toasts and speeches and sing songs you probably don’t understand. Then you eat large quantities of food and attempt to fend off the roving pourers who try to ply you with vodka, wine, and beer. There is club-type dancing and more traditional Mongolian waltz-type dancing, which confuses me immensely because they tend not to distinguish between 3/4 and 4/4 music.These parties are kind of fun once the dancing starts, though it’s hard to appreciate everything leading up to that point when you don’t know the songs and can’t understand the speeches. But hey, free food, right?
The problem for me is not the party itself so much as the preparation involved. Mongolians like to dress nicely for work, and they enjoy glamming up for special occasions even more. The women put on nice dresses and pantyhose and high heels. They go to salons and get their hair curled and styled. They put on even more makeup than usual.
My director, knowing the limitations of my wardrobe and budget, has been immensely helpful in keeping me from looking woefully underdressed. She has, on several occasions, found friends from whom to borrow dresses and shoes for me, and she has taken me with her to her hairdresser (her sister) before every party. And I’m grateful for that. But I’m also sick of it.
I have spent more time in hair salons in the past three months than in my entire life before Mongolia. Granted, that’s not saying much; “getting my hair cut” has been mostly limited to my mother trimming my hair, my first college roommate did my hair for our two Charter Day Balls (she did a fantastic job), and I went to all of two dances in high school. But there’s a reason for that: I am very much a tomboy.
I hate the crunchy feeling of hairsprayed hair, and the fumes give me massive headaches. I don’t have the patience to mess around with a curling or straightening iron, and the closest I’d come to dyeing my hair is dousing it with lemon juice and sunlight. Honestly, all I’ve ever wanted from my hair was for it to grow longer and faster (and possibly tangle a little less). While I do enjoy dressing up now and then, I feel the same way about getting my hair done on a regular basis as about wearing makeup every day: I am so very not interested.
I don’t mean to sound like an ungrateful party pooper, but the fact of the matter is that I am just not a party girl. I’d rather spend an evening curled up with a good book or watching a movie with friends than at a drunken banquet. Living in Mongolia is not going to change that, no matter how many parties my school throws.