I know there was a time when Mongolia didn’t feel like another home, before I went there on my Fulbright grant, before 2006. But I can’t remember it. Every time I speak Mongolian, it feels like a homecoming. I spoke it last on December 21 at the Embassy of Mongolia in Washington, DC. I said, “Sain bain uu, bi Shebana baina,” “hello, I’m Shebana,” to the group of about seventy people who had gathered to hear my multimedia presentation about being on the move in Mongolia. It was co-organized by the Embassy of Mongolia and the Mongolian Cultural Center, based in Arlington, Virginia.
I went to Mongolia looking for nomads, I said in my presentation, but I also found the city, Ulaanbataar, Mongolia’s capital where I took intensive language lessons. My time in Mongolia ranged between learning the language in the city and living with nomadic families in the “yag hoodoo,” the countryside proper. Each season, I went to a different Mongolian province: Eastern Mongolia, during calving season in the spring; the green north, where I learned sheep herding in the summertime; the Gobi Desert, for autumn adventures in camel herding; and Western Mongolia, with Kazakh families during the winter. I recorded nomadic families at work, rest, and play, and returned with tons of audio and photos including interviews, ambient sounds, and songs.