On January 16, 2014, Uuganaa Ramsay’s memoir Mongol held a successful launch at the Waterstones on Argyle Street, Glasgow. The occasion is grand in all meanings of the word; turn out is great, the memoir is a powerful expression of a woman’s journey from a happy care-free childhood into a mother who lost her child, and for Uuganaa it is a physical sign that her son, Billy, will always be remembered.
Uuganaa begins her short speech with thanking those important in her life, holding back emotions is palpable both from
the audience and Uuganaa herself, especially as her father is sitting there – on the first row, unashamedly tearing up
both for bride of his child and the memories Uuganaa’s words evoke. Her words ring true to her descriptions of a childhood where she was loved, supported and (in her own words) even spoiled – for Uuganaa her family and friends, her experiences and the support she received is gold in many layers.
Why did Uuganaa decide to write a book so personal, so touching? She tells the listeners how she began to write her blog after Billy died, to have Billy live on people’s minds, and have something tangible that will always be there – especially as a copy of Mongol will always be in the British Library.
That being said, for Uuganaa the memoir is not just about Billy – Billy is big part of her story, but she also wants to emphasize how she wanted to write about Mongolia, Mongolian culture and the word Mongol, to show that people from Mongolia can be normal, like Uuganaa, as Uuganaa has had to explain during her student times. In essence, it is a memoir of Uuganaa’s family values, culture and language as much as a memoir of the memory of her son who happened to be Mongolian, and have Down’s Syndrome.
A powerful paragraph in the memoir is when the doctor has related news of Billy’s Down Syndrome to Uuganaa and her husband, with the note that is might not be as obvious due to her ethnicity (Mongol, p.12). This was the first step towards countering the use of the word “mongol” in a derogatory way and to start advocating the correct use of the term to mean the nation full of history, the ethnicity and the language only. Uuganaa’s wish is one day to have people see the term through Mongolian eyes; just one nation among all the others.
After introducing us her book, Uuganaa read three short pieces from the memoir; all very different and all very
emotional, and all very important. I mostly remember them already from when having had the chance to talk with Uuganaa for the Saraband book trailer, the difficulty deciding what to read that would show the nuances of the memoir. Uuganaa started with the beginning of chapter three (Mongol, p.18), reliving the memories of her happy childhood in the ger, a portable, felt-covered, wooden-framed and circular traditional Mongolian home. Next Uuganaa reads the part of when she had to explain Down’s syndrome to her mother, and how it was as much an emotional as a cultural shock, trying to explain something that was unfamiliar, and have that mother’s initial reaction of “no, no, no. Not my girl. You have gone through enough in life. You can’t suffer like this.” (Mongol, p. 10). Last but not least, Uuganaa finished with a bit of humour after all that upheaval – cultural differences between couples (Mongol, p. 15) where Richard, the husband-to-be, was giving Uuganaa a compliment which actually for her was an insult: “Not too long after we were together, he commented that I looked tanned. I was offended. I was so offended that I didn’t talk to him for a day.” Naturally, it was all a misunderstanding but does put life into a perspective, thinking what the Western culture yearns for versus what is considered attainable in the East.
Uuganaa’s reading and speech had the listeners emotionally opened and drained that in the Q&A there were not so much Q’s as there were thank you’s and praise for Uuganaa’s bravery for writing her memoir, voicing out the culture and the importance of Billy as a human boy despite his ethnicity or extra chromosome. A father speaks how having his daughter taught him to be more in touch with his feelings and how, like Uuganaa, he has benefitted from the enormous support of other parents (also, absolute must would be the Ups and Downs Theatre Group). Another one of Uuganaa’s friends thanks her for writing such an important work, and implores her to translate it into Mongolian so the memoir can be shared back home as well.
Uuganaa finishes (before signing a massive pile of books for her audience) with thanking Scotland and her family for giving her a voice, for being open-minded and supportive. And maybe what with all the support she has received, there could be another book about to be written?
Find out more about Uuganaa and her views at the wonderful interview by Trish Nicholson.