I walked into my khasaa family’s house today to give them my second key back. I had left mine at school last week, and needed the copy to get in my ger. Knowing it wouldn’t be the last time, I made sure they had the spare before I once again forgot my key in some random classroom. I opened the door to their house without knocking. It would have been pointless as Mongolians don’t knock, and even if they did the force of my bare knuckles would have been muffled by the usual winterization blanket nailed to the door.
As I stepped into the welcome warmth, my little sister looked up from the desk at which she was studiously copying down yet another multiplication table. Her eyes shone with delight at the slight intrusion, welcoming a break from her hard labor. I turned the corner, stepping into the main room of the house that contained the TV, couches and desk, along with the carpeted floor on which the family often slept, even though there was a bed in the room adjacent. The rest of my Mongolian family- my younger brother, baby brother, mom and dad came into view and the rapidly approaching one-year old shouted a garbled greeting. My brother was sprawled on the ground, doodling in his notebook, while my parents were lying down, cuddling side by side on the couch, partially asleep.
My father glanced up, and I placed the two keys (one to my ger and one to my ping) on the sofa’s arm. He looked at me questioningly, and I explained that I would probably lock myself out of my ger at least once again in the next year. He nodded, affirming this obvious piece of truth. I said goodbye, turning around to once again step through the archway into the small corridor containing the outside door.
As I slid into my tennis shoes, my little brother skipped towards me. “What’s your birthday, when’s your birthday?!” he asked expectantly. I responded, and he became excited with the realization that it was next week. Hearing this, my sister came into view, and they both began speaking loud, rapid Mongolian. I shushed them, not wanting to further awaken their parents. I told them we could talk later and whispered goodnight to my siblings, now including a waving infant who had waddled in to join the fun. I slipped out the door, gently shutting it behind me. Walking to my ger, I detected that a slight amount of warmth from the house was still on my skin.