It’s Chinggis Khan’s birthday!

With the stainless steel Chinggis Khan in 2018

The day after, actually. Well, sort of. No one’s really sure when his birthday is, but there are some good guesses, and there is a customary holiday in November to commemorate it. The range seems to be November 8 to November 27, in the ten years since it was established as a national holiday. Chinggis Khan (known as “Genghis” to some of the world) was born most likely in 1162, though Tibetan sources put his birth in 1182. A lot depended on which calendar people were using (there were several possibilities at the time). The UNESCO Silk Roads Programme has a brief article that calculates the exact birthdate, using historical and astrological sources, to May 1, 1162. Indications were that Chinggis was born in the first month of summer.

At the moment, I’m not entirely sure how the shift from a May birthdate to a November one occurred (I’m recovering from COVID-19 at the moment and have little energy, but I’ve started the research). I’m enough of an amateur historian that I will figure it out (and likely report back next year). According to the venerable website Public Holidays, “a group of researchers at the Mongolian Academy of Sciences concluded that Chinggis Khan was born in the year A.D. 1162 on the first day of the first month of winter on the Mongolian lunar calendar.” It’s been celebrated officially in November since it became a national holiday in 2012. This year, it was November 24.

Someday, when we aren’t recovering from covid, I’d like to go to Sukhbaatar Square in central Ulaanbaatar and see the commemoration ceremony and celebration. Hopefully next year!

Chinggis Khan sitting in front of the Mongolian Parliament, overlooking Sukhbaatar Square

In the meanwhile, we spent Chinggis Khan’s birthday at home, and I spent most of the day in bed. Devin had more energy and was able to ink a page of the webcomic they are working on (more on that eventually). I got up just enough to do a load of laundry, wash some dishes, and cook what for us is our traditional Thanksgiving dinner, which we ate while watching the Peanuts Thanksgiving and Mayflower specials (which we have on DVD) and talking about genocide. We’ve done this every year since my brother Steve could no longer visit us for Thanksgiving, which has been several years (he usually came for a week or two at Christmas instead, until COVID-19 altered holiday plans in 2020).

What do gluten-free vegetarians eat for Thanksgiving? you may wonder. Since Devin became vegetarian, too, I was happy to ditch the turkey (which I used to cook for them and my brother, since I don’t eat dead birds). We kept the mashed potatoes, and added some of Devin’s favorite foods, mainly mac’n’cheese and vegan chick’n nuggets. We’ve had to ditch those because of gluten. In the US we used to eat green beans, but those aren’t available here (I only found them fresh once at a Japanese cultural festival, though you can get frozen ones). But last night we had mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, and one of two packages of Annie’s gluten free mac’n’cheese that I managed to fit in our suitcases when we came back from the US in August. (I’m saving the other for our Christmas celebration next month.)

Neither of us had much of an appetite, and both of us have impaired sense of taste on account of the COVID-19. I was on day four of symptoms, while Devin was on day seven. They’re not so sure when they started feeling it, but managed a full day of school last Thursday, plus the parent-teacher-student speed dating conferences they do twice a year at Devin’s school (60 to 90 minutes of walking around the gym talking to each of the teachers for about ten minutes or so). On Friday, a day off because of more conferences, they were clearly sick, had a fever, and slept all day. They got up to sit on the sofa for a bit and fell back asleep. Then they got up to lay in bed with me and ended up sleeping there for the night. (We sometimes all four sleep together—us plus the dogs—when Devin is sick or has had a bad day, though this only happens a few times a year now.)

At this point, I wasn’t thinking about covid specifically, because there have been plenty of things going around that aren’t, and this didn’t act like what I thought covid would act like (the main problem Devin was experiencing was in the sinuses). No one at their school had said anything about covid, despite a “bad cold” that had been circulating among teachers and students at their school. I figured it was the “bad cold,” and I thought of testing for covid, but figured it would be negative like it’s always been and decided not to waste the test. Ha! Poor judgment.

I was feeling fine through the weekend, and Devin felt tired and stuffy, but good enough to go to school on Monday. It was a short week, and they had a couple of exams, including a practice oral in English and their first summatives in Spanish, so they didn’t want to miss anything. They also have an anxiety about missing school that I never had (one of the ways in which we’re quite different); they’re afraid to miss anything important and don’t really feel like they can rely on classmates to catch them up if they do.

But by Sunday evening, I realized I was getting sick, too. I decided to stay home Monday and have my students work on their presentations. By Monday morning, I was really sick, but again, it just felt like a bad cold. Except that I slept all day, and all night. I’ve done that in the past, when I had the flu or a weird virus, so it wasn’t unprecedented. By Tuesday I was awake again, but I canceled my classes and made plans for my students to give online presentations on Wednesday. I was in bed all day. Devin and both had no appetite, so I didn’t even bother making dinner. I had a couple of mandarin oranges, which were the best food ever, and Devin had Doritos. I did manage to make us both tea, I think.

By Wednesday, I was getting suspicious. I thought, well, I’d better just test for covid and rule it out. This is probably the flu, which we caught despite getting our flu shots at the end of October. My fever was gone, but I was feeling like I couldn’t get enough air. My lungs felt heavy, and my nose was very congested. Between the two of us, we’d finished off a big box of tissues, and I was working my way through a smaller one in my room. I just generally felt miserable.

I wrote on Facebook, with a photo of my view from my bed, “Day 3 in bed. Thought I was getting better yesterday evening, but my sinuses blew up overnight and I didn’t get much sleep. I sat up to drink a cup of tea, and now it’s back to bed. I guess I’m just not used to being sick anymore, but this feels exceptionally horrible. One online class later this morning (student presentations originally scheduled for Monday), and then I’ll be in full collapse mode…”

After that, I decided to take a covid test, just to rule it out. I was so used to the tests being negative by this point, that I was quite surprised to see that second purple line appearing faintly in the little box. Well, that explained a lot.

So, Devin had been going to school for three days with COVID-19. I felt somewhat bad. Except that their classmates had been, too. Devin got this from one of them. And no one is even talking about covid at this point. I messaged Devin, who would have been advisory, “We have covid.” I figured there wasn’t much to do about it. The difference between Devin and their classmates and teachers was that Devin still wears a mask every day, and the rest of them mainly don’t. There are one or two others in their 11th grade classes, and when I was on their campus several times the previous week (including Saturday for a crowded Holiday Charity Sale event, which Devin couldn’t attend (they were supposed to help out and felt terrible that they were in bed all day with a fever instead), I only saw a few people wearing masks in the secondary school. I’m not really sure what the school policy is at this point, but I think symptomatic kids are allowed to attend school if they wear masks (which Devin was), and most people who are symptomatic aren’t even doing that. Saturday, I saw one of the teacher’s I’d seen the day before wearing a mask (he hadn’t been before) because he had a “scratchy throat” and thought he’d better protect other people. But Devin says kids have come to school coughing and sneezing, and sometimes one of the teachers will feebly say, “You should weak a mask,” but nothing really happens.

So that’s over, I guess.

Yesterday–Chinggis Khan’s birthday and the American holiday of Thanksgiving, also a National Day of Mourning–we were just another couple of people recovering from COVID-19.

I feel very…bad…about our covid situation and how I handled it. I guess I was getting less vigilant, like everyone else. I continue to wear my N-95 pollution mask from Cambridge outdoors and on the buses, and I switch to a paper KF-94 mask at school. Though I had taken to taking my mask off in my smaller class as long as no one was coughing. So it could just as easily have been me bringing covid home for the holidays. Official case rates are low here in Mongolia (around 200-300 per day), but ours won’t be counted among them, because I tested at home like most other people who are still testing these days.

Every once in a while, I’ll get an email from a student who says they can’t come to class because they have a fever, and I’ll ask if they’ve tested for COVID-19, and they’ll say not yet, and sometimes get back to me with a picture of a negative test. But everyone’s treating it like it’s another virus now. Which in some ways, it is.

In other ways…

On Wednesday, after they got home from school and exclaimed, “I can’t believe we have covid!” Devin asked at one point, “What if we get long covid?” I replied, “Chances are, only one of us might, and we’ll just have to see.” Because there’s something like a 10% chance of that. There are all sorts of long-term possibilities with this critter, which is still not well understood by the medical field. People’s hearts, brains, lungs, and other organs and systems are experiencing all sorts of effects. This is why the “It’s just a cold” line is so infuriating. Maybe there are people who get heart disease, CFS, and other long-term conditions from the cold virus, but in nowhere near the numbers as are getting it from COVID-19. And it’s not just the elderly or infirm, but young, otherwise healthy people whose lives can be completely changed by this thing, which is why I think it’s still worth avoiding.

And of course, people who’ve had it can get it again, which is why we’ll continue to try to avoid it. Because every time you get it, you increase your chances of long-term disability or disease. And one of us is already living with that.

Happy Chinggis Khan’s birthday! It’s 8:15 am, and as soon as I get this posted, I’m going back to bed.

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