February has always been a month of me getting what I wanted. My birthday comes at the end of the month and has always given me plenty of time to make wish lists, tell people what I would love to get and anticipate it with open hands. Now in Mongolia I have yet another reason to want. Tsaagan Sar is a yearly celebration here which celebrates crossing over the peak of winter and entering the wonderfully warm seasons of spring and summer. These two pictures are of Tunga's mother and I during Tsagaan Sar last year. It is a very important holiday, arguably the most important in the country, and surrounded by an incredible amount of gift giving. In someways it's a combination of American Thanksgiving, Christmas and Spring Cleaning, with lots of cooking, cleaning, family, friends and visits all over the country. Stores shut down for days, the country grinds to a halt and national foods like buuz are eaten by the billions, which is saying a lot for a country with a population of almost 3 million. It's awe inspiring.
So when my colleague and close friend Saradunai asked me what presents I wanted, what things I needed, imagine my surprise when, inspite of myself, I stared off into the distance and couldn't think of a thing. It wasn't that I couldn't think of anything to say, I literally couldn't think of anything to think. Risking being hokie, after a few minutes I told her in Mongolian, "I have everything I want. I'm very happy. I am surrounded by wonderful people I love. I have a wonderful girlfriend I love. And I have 100 tugrics." As I said it I was playing with the present she had given me somewhat reluctantly weeks ago: a pile of brand new 1 tugric notes which I had been wanting for months. I have used them in class, plan on sending them to my family and friends, want to include them in merit badge orders, use them as bookmarks...the list goes on and on. She laughed. Hard. Harder than I had ever seen her laugh before, which is saying something because she laughs more than anyone in our office. Maybe the entire hospital. She repeated what I said and laughed again. I smiled and laughed with her smiling, "Right, exactly." She laughed because I couldn't think of anything, she laughed because I was completely serious in my reply and she laughed for the same reason she was reluctant to give me those 100 one tugric notes in the first place - it's the equivalent of giving someone 100 1/10ths of a penny, or a dime cut into 100 pieces. They are hard to get because the bank doesn't even like dealing with them. Whatever the case, I love them and she thinks it's hilarious.
"On second thought," I told her, "I know what I want."
"What?" she asked, wiping her eyes from all the laughing.
"Maybe another 100 tugrics?"
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu