Monday, February 13, 2012

Цасний Баяр: Snow Happiness Day

It’s another winter Saturday—a day that has become synonymous with sleeping in and watching television online. An ocean doesn’t change much. I had just gotten around to loading the first of surely several episodes of “Lost” that I would watch on my day off, when I received a text from my counterpart, Enkhjargal.
“Will you go snow day? Please come with my family.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what that is. What time is snow day?”
“Just stay outside.”

Confused and assuming someone might show up to my apartment at any moment, I got dressed in what I considered warm clothes for an ambiguous “snow day.” Moments later, my manager, Sarnai, called me and told me to go outside and get in Enkhjargal’s family car.

My school's tent
Waiting in the car were Enkhjargal, her husband, her three daughters, and several thermoses of what I assumed was hot milk tea. We drove out past the limits of Baganuur, about 15 minutes from the main road. The mountains greeted us on both sides as we coasted along the white steppe. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the glimmer of cars in the distance caught my eye. We turned off and took a snow path towards the idle row of machinery. Beyond the cars, more colors speckled the white snow. I saw the bright blue of tents being erected, smoke from fires rising, neon children dragging sleds. “Ah. Tsasnii Bayar.”

The celebration translates to “snow happiness.” Sarnai told me that they had chosen to celebrate snow day today because it wasn’t very cold. It was about -13 F, which is cold, yes, but a considerable improvement from -30 F. As I looked around, I realized that most organizations from our town came out to make an appearance. The banks, the hospital, the schools, the government workers—everyone had a tent somewhere to recognize this official leave-town-to-play-in-the-snow day. I approached my school’s tent and was swiftly redirected to the steppe with several teachers on a snow block harvesting mission. There was a London 2012 Olympics-themed snow sculpture-building contest that was beginning and we needed materials. We were out beyond the city. This snow had never been trampled. It was pristine, and it stretched out for miles until greeted by the base of the neighboring mountains. My feet floated above it with each step for a half-second—an astoundingly simple effect of the unbroken surface tension—before being engulfed to the ankles. I retrieved my feet, step-by-step, and carried on. When we reached the spot where the “good snow” was, we began to chop away at it, saving giant, compact blocks to carry back to the tent.

Competitions, of course
After dropping off the blocks, I was coaxed into climbing to the top of the nearest mountain by another counterpart, Zolzaya. Although my hands and feet had still not yet warmed up after the previous mission, I went along. After reaching the top, we stopped to admire our surroundings. Excluding the festivities down below, everything was white in all directions. Kids zoomed down the mountain on homemade sleds, their screams becoming more distant and less distinct. Before I knew it, I was holding on to Zaya for my life as we shot down the hill, too.

My sitemate, Brian, and I

Enkhjargal pouring suutei tsai

Once at the bottom, I was considerably colder. I made it back to our tent where Enkhjargal gave me a bowl of hot aarts to drink. This thick, yogurt-like beverage is not my favorite, but it was warm and I was not, so I took it graciously. At this point, I wasn’t feeling very well. I’d been lightheaded most of the day, but had been ignoring it in order to have a good time at my first tsasnii bayar. Before long, my teachers began passing a lot of food around. Buuz, tsuivan, budaatai huurga, boov: all of the staples were there. I had a little and some milk tea to help warm me up. After lunch, my counterpart, Alta, dragged me back up the mountain to meet our friends, B. Saraa, Kh. Saraa, and Enkhtuya. Once at the top, I was winded and dizzy. After posing for a few pictures, I sat town to get my bearings while the girls wrestled in the snow. They were soon ready to walk back down, but I was too dizzy yet to trust in my ability to stand steady on the steep hill. “I’m going to rest. I don’t feel well,” I told them. So we waited a few minutes. Feeling slightly better, I was helped to my feet and we began out descent. After walking only a few feet down the slope, I felt immediately sick and fell down, unable to process exactly where I was. I started shivering from the cold that had permeated my shoes and gloves, removing all feeling but pain from my extremities. Two of my friends had run down the hill to get help, while Kh. Saraa stayed with me. I lied back on the snow and closed my eyes. Saraa told me that I looked white, that my blood was low. A couple minutes later, my friend Aagii lifted me up onto his back and carried me down to the base of the mountain, where I was quickly put into a warm car. They took off my gloves and gasped at the color of my hands, which was anything but natural. They tried to bend them out of their frozen state, but they were stiff and unyielding. I couldn’t grasp the bowl of hot tea that was handed to me, so instead, it was placed on top of my hands, and Zolzaya, who was sitting in the car next to me, wrapped her hands around mine, persuading them to thaw and bend.

Saraa, Saraa, Enkhtuya, Alta

I rode back to Baganuur with Enkhjargal’s family and Zolzaya, and my two counterparts helped me up to my apartment once we arrived. My boots were pried off, followed by the two pairs of socks I was wearing. My feet were blocks of ice, devoid of all color save for red splotches. I changed into warmer clothes, and my friends sat with me in bed as I thawed out. Regaining the feeling in my hands in feet was very painful. I was overcome by pins and needles. Enkhjargal filled a bottle with hot water and placed it at the foot of my bed, and while I know they hadn’t, I thought my feet had caught fire. I warmed up a while with the help of my friends and hot tea, and then they left me to rest. I have said this before, but I am so lucky to work with the people that I do who take such good care of me.

Tsasnii Ger!

I was really bummed that I had to leave snow day early. I place the blame on the migraine medicine I took that morning which affects my blood pressure. But I’ve included pictures so hopefully you’ll see what a good day I was having despite the episode. I never had snow days to enjoy in Texas. I’m already looking forward to next year’s celebration.

No comments:

Post a Comment