Tag Archives: eagle festival

EagleFest: The Report

Last weekend, a whole bunch of people trooped in from other aimags for Bayan Ulgii’s Eagle Festival. I stayed at the Quiet Apartment with my aimag-mates, while one of the other Bayan-Ulgii people hosted the partiers.

Our apartment was asleep by midnight on Friday, but we had chocolate chip pancakes in the morning. I think we win.


The hunters just kinda tied their birds to their cars when they didn’t need them.

Morning: wakeup, and breakfast, and morning drinks (for certain of the visiting contigent), and finding an ATM that actually worked in the city center — around eleven, we finally piled into a mikr [offroading minivan] and headed out to the festival, which was maybe 8km from Ulgii aimag center. We got there just in time for the lunch break.

The eagle hunters stuck around for most of the break, though, and so we got to see that the eagles are, in fact, gigantic. For reference:

[a picture will go here once I nab it from the person who took it.]

We hung out for a while, watched the hunters practice with their eagles, and browsed the souvenirs on sale. We also discovered it was much colder out in the mountains without five-story apartment complexes to shield us. People had set up gers selling xуушуур, and a group of us piled into one just to escape the wind. Then we booked it to the mikr, where we hung out debating whether we wanted to stay.

But then, just when we thought it was time to leave, there was an exhibition!

The eagle’s owner would turn his or her bird over to another hunter, then head down the mountainside to the exhibition ring. S/he was then supposed to call the eagle to land. Inevitably, every time I tried to take a video, the eagle decided not to grace its owner’s arm.

After that we left.

My school decided to celebrate Teacher’s Day on Saturday, for some reason, so I missed most of the festivities. I did, however, split my evening between our teacher banquet and hanging out with the visitors. I did not make it to bed before midnight that night, on account of there being only one set of keys to the apartment, but I still got close to eight hours of sleep[1].

On Sunday, we did not have pancakes. But we got to the festival just in time for lunch break.

I bought a wolf’s tooth. I absolutely did not need a wolf’s tooth, but I like buying trinkety souvenirs.


After lunch, male and female horse riders paired off to play a game in which, apparently, the woman has to hit the man with a leather strap or else the man gets to kiss her. I’m…not entirely sure I appreciate the gender politics of this game, but it was fun to watch.

Sunday wasn’t as cold as Saturday, but in-aimag travelers had to be back in Ulgii to catch a public mikr, and out-aimag travelers wanted to get back to their homes at a reasonable hour. We left around 3:00.

All in all? Rather less eventful than I expected, but still loads of fun. I got to eat pancakes, held an eagle, asked a kid (in Kazakh!!) if the falcon he was holding belonged to him, and had the privilege of watching one of the guys in our group walk around wearing a hat made of fox faces. A weekend full of the sort of details that make this experience unbelievable in every sense of the word.

[1] Those of you who know me know my extreme fondness for ridiculously early bedtimes. Those who do not…poor souls, you will learn.

Autumn Festivities

Life has picked up since the beginning of the school year. This is partly because of work — I’ve been adding a new class or commitment every week — but also because this September, there have been a LOT of events in my community.

School Anniversary

“How do you celebrate your school’s 20th anniversary in America?”

It was the week before school started, and my teachers were writing their annual plan of action. They had been speaking in Kazakh, and I’d tuned out, bored.

“Er…” I said, wracking my brain. An assembly with a (usually rather boring) speaker? Maybe some decorations in the halls? “We don’t, really.”

In Mongolia, they do. And they do it with style.

Class was canceled two Fridays ago for our 20th anniversary celebration. Instead, we had an awards ceremony/concert at noon. The school director (the Mongolian version of a principal) gave a presentation on the school’s major works and legacy. Then the director, distinguished teachers, and high-achieving students were given awards and gifts, though I only caught a few words of rapid Mongolian to guess what the awards were about. At last, after about an hour of speechmaking, students and teachers collaborated on about a dozen acts of dombra, singing and dancing.

In the evening, we had a banquet. We snacked and chatted during another awards ceremony, and then danced. I am a TERRIBLE dancer, but I like Kazakh dancing! Everyone stands in a circle and sort of shuffles from foot to foot. The more enthusiastic dancers take turns in the center. After the dancing — just when I had concluded that this was, very strangely, a party in Mongolia that didn’t have a meal — we received dinners and a meat plate at our table.

Then, on Saturday, all of the school’s teachers went on a picnic. We left the town center around 8 or 9 for a sparse forest by the river. When I say “by the river”, I mean “somewhere in the middle of a bunch of islands formed by the branching of the river and reached by fording river branches until one of the mikrs breaks down in the water and everyone has to go back to drag the broken mikr out and then decide to stop right there and picnic.” We broke up into groups of 10 or 20 and made separate cooking fires; ate breakfast (veggies, oranges, cold pasta salad, and hot milk tea); and then regrouped to dance. Repeat for lunch (meat stew and kumuz[1]) and dinner (soup, black tea, and a bottle of wine), but with a small contingent of increasingly drunk male teachers[2]. We went home around 8pm, which my teachers tell me is a very early end to such a day.


Kurban Ait

Most Kazakh people are Muslim and celebrate Islamic holidays. This past Thursday, Friday and Saturday were Kurban Ait, which takes place 70 days after the end of Ramadan. Observers who keep livestock sacrifice one of their animals, eat a portion, give a portion to family and friends, and donate a portion to the poor. I tried to ask a little bit about the meaning behind the holiday — “Why do you celebrate? Why now and not some other day?” — but was told only, “Because it’s 70 days after the end of Ramadan.” Instead of rambling on something I don’t really know about, I will direct you to the Wikipedia page for further detail.

One of my CPs generously invited me home on Friday. I practiced a few stumbling Kazakh sentences with her father-in-law, who carved the meat. In Kazakh culture, everyone eats from a common plate. I definitely prefer this to the eternal Mongolian battle between I should finish my plate according to politeness and Honored Guest gets as much food to eat alone as the rest of the entire family eats together.


Eagle Festival

This weekend, October 3-4, is the Eagle Festival in Bayan Ulgii! This is Bayan Ulgii’s main call to fame.

In my first week at site, I noticed a lot of raptors hanging out by the river. They’re a golden-brown color and about twice the size of the redtailed hawks I know in the States. I commented to one of my CPs that people weren’t kidding when they said there were eagles here.

“They aren’t eagles,” she said dismissively. “The eagles are bigger.”

The “small” bird seems to resemble the lowly black kite[4]. The Eagle Festival bird is the golden eagle. Kazakh eagle-hunters use these birds to catch fur-bearing animals, and then sell the pelts — as I learned this past week when I helped one of my CPs, who’ll be acting as a tour guide, with falconry vocab[3].

I plan to attend the festival this weekend, and will be putting up a report next week!


Teacher’s Day!

October 5th is Mongolia’s national Teacher’s Day. Our school is celebrating it on Monday — I think — one of the teachers said we would be celebrating Friday, but the other teacher sounded more sure of herself — we’ll see — and it sounds like a silly, fun sort of day. Topsy-turvy. The teachers sit back and relax while their students teach the classes, and we have another banquet over the weekend. I’m not sure how this holiday will work for me, since I don’t have homeroom students or a stable schedule, but I think I’ll have fun, whatever happens.

[1] Fermented mare’s milk, known by Mongolians and most PCVs as airag (айраг); қымыз (kumuz) is the Kazakh word.
[2] A small contigent for two reasons: One, there are only maybe two dozen male teachers at my school; two, possibly because of the predominantly Muslim population, Bayan-Ulgii parties are a little bit more sober than other Mongolian parties. Alcohol at picnics is a thing.
[3] Why do I know any falconry vocab? Goodness knows, but I managed to pull words like “hood” and “jesses” out of somewhere when my CP asked for them. And why is falconer the only common-use word for people who hunt with raptors?
[4] Edit 10/8/15: I am informed by a visiting PCV that these birds are kites, not steppe eagles — and migratory, which explains why I haven’t seen any in weeks.