There was a festive mood in a village in Mongolia's Khovd District recently as family and friends gathered to celebrate the birth of a baby into an ethnic Kazakh family. A new arrival is always cause for celebration in a Kazakh household, marked with a succession of events from the "cradle party" soon after the birth to the "string cutting" ceremony to snip a symbolic string when the child starts walking.
In this case, the celebrations were rolled into one: many relatives and friends of the Bakhyt family were seeing the child for the first time, because she was born over the border in Kazakhstan. This is just one of many families whose members straddle the frontier, and a visit from the other side is a chance to exchange news – and a good excuse for a party.
Amid the celebrations, Tilek Bakhyt, the baby's uncle, was looking westward to where his niece was born, wondering if there might be better prospects for him over the border, too. He has a job teaching English in a village school, but life is not easy in this underdeveloped rural area. "It's hard," he said. "It's better in Kazakhstan, for sure."
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Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia.