A growing number of Mongolians are living up to their role of nomad in an updated version of the ancient globe trotter in the era of modernization and globalization. From tens of thousands that inhabit pockets of America and elsewhere across Europe, Asia and the Pacific, approximately 400-1000 live and work in Geneva, Switzerland. By informal estimates, 80 percent have overstayed their visas. They can be spotted everywhere, at the main station through to the outer skirts of town. The women are relegated to home care and such whilst the men, harder pressed, to the backsides of restaurants and whatever they can find. Of course, there are a number that work in offices and with some of the hundreds of international organizations. The Mongolian Permanent Mission to the United Nations made sporadic appearances to the 62nd World Health Assembly last week, but that is understandable, as small missions have a tough time filling their seats. A woman recently explained to me in a mix of French/English/Mongolian (nomadic even in language!) how Mongolians cannot stay in one place, that as nomads they possess a perpetual urge to motion. It is truly incredible how small the world is, as I talked with another young ambitious Mongolian who had just arrived in Geneva. She was from the little far away soum I had previously lived and worked in as a Peace Corps volunteer and knew many of the same people. It is difficult to describe the feeling of two strangers, from opposite ends of the earth, with certain commonalities, finding themselves reminiscing about the steppe over homemade food in a foreign land.
Ariunaa brought back a piece of home when she turned up Saturday night at the Salle Centrale Madeleine in the Old Town. Hurd had played the week before with absolutely zero advertisement with many Mongolians unaware of their arrival. Being an admirer, I was disappointed at having missed it as a friend only rumored of their appearance. Hurd charged 70 CHF, Ariunaa 55 CHF and an additional 30 CHF for an after-party signing and hang out.
It was a treat to see her in a small theater with perhaps up to 300 attendees as opposed to her usual large-scale UB Palace gigs. Playing just under two hours with tape backup and high spirits, the satisfied crowd danced and sang with the token Mongolian man trying to start a fight, after having thrown back a couple, before realizing the futility, tearing his shirt off and singing in tears of joy. Copies of the new album were handed out to the best dressed as these people practiced their dignified culture and traditions. Ariunaa sang old and new, from “Nandin Uchral,” “Ankhni Haer” and “Bayartai Gej Helj Chadahgui” to new tunes. In between songs, the pop star went through a few heartfelt monologues before making everybody cry singing about aav, eej, haer and the homeland. Even I had gotten a little teary-eyed, the specially imported Chinggis beer being of great assistance. For the finale, flags waved and hands were placed on hearts for the national anthem. It felt like being back in Ulaanbaatar.
The problem for many Mongolians abroad is the lack of a holboo to connect through. Many are busy just trying to survive and find little time to actively seek each other out. Some prefer to assimilate and care less as much about their countrymen. There is no cultural center or meeting place and the fact that many are ‘underground’ makes them weary of too much contact. Thankfully, however, huushuur and other made-to-order food will be available at the Café du Lys in Geneva every Sunday from now on. The Chinggis vodka does not come cheap though, at 90 CHF a bottle. Opening day today saw a Mongol horde takeover as the aroma of suutei tsai and slew of shagai was tossed around. The café was filled with joy and laughter among nomads from all walks of life and Mongolians with their typical upbeat disposition. All of us are coming and going, connected more so than we think. One thing is for sure which Mongolians rightly have observed; we are perpetual wanderers and exiles in this life.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009 - UB Post