Seventeen and Kazakh

This piece is part of the the Eucid Series, which highlights the voices of contemporary, urban women from Mongolia to draw up a genealogy of female mentorship. At the end of each interview, each woman was asked to name a role model, who was then interviewed—and theirs is the story which will be published next.

This week, we meet Janar Mukhtaar.

There was our grandfather’s grandfather Imeke. He was the artist. He used to sell wooden things he made himself. He never studied mathematics at school, but he never missed a measurement when he was doing his wooden works. He never slept without his work finished for the day. He was really hardworking and sticky for time, like Germans. My father is like him. He creates something himself and never does work by half. He does his work until it’s perfect. I try to be like them.

I have a bad habit. I stop working if I am bored. But I try to be like them.

The elders say, if you are Kazakh, you need to marry someone who is Kazakh. I have other ideas. I think, yes, youths have to listen to the advice of their elders, but we can’t be like their dog. We can’t live by our elders’ decisions. We should listen to our own voices, our own heart. We are walking our own ways, not theirs.

The Kazakhs are just 100,000 in Mongolia, so you have to know your ancestors before you marry, at least three high before you. So I have to know my grandfather, his father and grandfather. It is a little complicated, but very useful. You can’t marry someone who has the same blood. If you can’t memorize the three high before you, you can make a note with all your relatives to help you. A big tree. You can give it to your daughter or even your niece. It is a good gift. A good traditional thing.

No one has ever given me one. I am pretty good at remembering.

I want to tell you about my trip. I don’t travel much, but last summer, I visited the countryside in Bayan-Olgii. I went to the Tolbo Lake with its fresh water. In Bayan-Olgii it is very quiet; there is no stress, and you can listen to your inside voice. I thought a lot and organized the next 10 years of my life. If I had more time I would think more things. My mind is limitless. But I had to explore the city, especially shops.

They make many things in the Kazakh style, and I couldn’t stand not to buy them—so I bought. Two crazy handbags. One cloth, which is just for me, because I chose the style and the woman sewed it for me. She is talented. I wear the cloth, and I feel special, almost not normal. Like our Kazakh dombra with the two strings. Like our ger, which from the top looks like a snowball. Like our bags, which are patterned for the sun, its enormous energy. Like our dances.

I dance akku. It is a traditional Kazakh dance, the dance of the swan. I dance in my traditional Kazakh clothes, and I don’t want to take them off after, because I love it. When the dance finishes, everyone claps. The clapping makes me strong.

In Kazakhstan, there are more of us. More Kazakhs. We are always companionable brothers with the Mongolian people. We were there in the first congress, when Mongolia was just becoming an independent country. We all tried together for independence. Now we have three Kazakhs in the Parliament. Three out of 76. Three to speak for all of us.

Sometimes, I think we are almost the same, the Mongolians and the Kazakhs. The similar blood flows in our body. But some qualities are so different.

I don’t want to tell a lie. Sometimes I feel conflicting inside. I have to talk and read mostly Mongolian. Sometimes I forget—special Kazakh words, songs. Sometimes I try to talk with my relatives who don’t know Mongolian, and I can’t understand.

In 10 years, I will be a mother. I will have to teach many things to my children. If my children are anti-social, lonely and shy, I will teach them to love art. Dance is the most sentimental art—it expresses feelings the best. Better than words. Words aren’t useful. I will teach them to be the eagle or the kara jorga, the dark horse, if he is a boy. For a girl, I will teach her akku, to be the white swan. It depends on gender.

I learned English. I watched the movie Pirates of the Caribbean more than 10 times. I stood in the mirror and I pretended I was talking to Johnny Depp. Sure, it is crazy, but it is useful. It improves my talking skills. You have to pretend it is a person you really want to meet.

I learned English. I write in Mongolian. Where is the Kazakh? Only last year was my first Nauriz, my first Kazakh festival of the new day, my first time to dance. I cannot stand if my children don’t know their tradition, culture and ancestors. It is complicated. I am trying.

I am growing up.

Do you know the eagle hunter Aisholpan? She is the youngest female eagle hunter. It is hard for a girl to be an eagle hunter, but she is doing it. She has a good career, even in America they know her. She acted in the movie about the eagle hunter. Sia sang, “Angel by the Wings” for her. She has a very good career.

First, it would be my mom. But the person I admire after my mom is my English teacher Chuluuntumur. She is the one made me interested in English. And here is something: we made a project for teaching the Mongolian Sign Language. I was supposed to present this project to the school. I had never spoken to more than twenty people, and I looked out before I present, and there were more than one hundred heads out there waiting for me to speak. I was so nervous. I went out and I said, “Aaaaah… my name is… aaaah,” so scared, like that. Then my teacher Chuluuntumur came out, and she killed with words. There was no fear in her voice.

She is so strong, and if I practice I will be this way—no fear.


Morgan Thomas received her MFA from the University of Oregon and was the recipient of a 2016-2017 Fulbright grant to Mongolia.