Comrades

Lenin meeting with Mongolian hero Sukhbaatar.

There are many things one does not know about a country until one lives there. It’s difficult to pick up on subtleties and emotional responses from the populace about their history unless you visit with and talk to these people.

October revealed much to me in how Mongolia and Russia get along with each other. This month was Mongolian/Russian friendship month in my fair city. I imagine Erdenet is more Russian friendly, considering it was built by Russians, is home to a Russian consulate, and one of every ten citizens is Russian. I may even be one of those ten. You never know.

I was visited by my supervisor from Peace Corps, when I was asked to meet the teachers from the Russian school. For the friendship month, my school works closely with the Russian school in our district, as well as the Russian consulate. We entered, they spoke to each other in Russian, all while a man took our picture.

“I think you understood what we said,” said my supervisor.

I blinked.

“No.”

A few days later, it was time for the Russian competition. My supervisor said there would be a singing competition, a storytelling competition, and a speaking contest. When I arrived at our gymnasium, I was greeting by a wealth of posters and pictures, drafted by students of all ages.

I took my seat, a girl sang for us, and the only competition began. It was trivia, all conducted in Russian.

Boards up!

Students had small white boards or blackboards, and had to quickly write their answers. I was fascinated. At one point, there was a mass exile of students, presumably because everyone got the question incorrect. The teachers looked at each other worriedly, speaking in hushed voices. After a moment of deliberation, it was decided that everyone was back in the competition.

There came another point where teachers handed out slips of papers to the esteemed panelists at the front, judges, and anyone in the audience. They were encouraged to write answers on the paper. After a minute, some folded up their papers into tubes or paper airplanes and began to throw them at the remaining contestants. Some rushed to pick them up and read their contents. Most sat and stared at their whiteboards. I raised my brow.

The eventual winner.

Finally, there was one student left. I assumed he was the winner, but the competition continued. They asked him three more questions; one can only assume to make sure he really was that good and not bamboozling the lot of them. After satisfying their skepticism, he was awarded a certificate. There were some speeches, another song by a young lad in an army uniform, and then everyone dispersed.

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My supervisor approached me and asked what I thought of the competition. Slightly dazed from a mild cold, I gave a satisfactory response I can only describe as grunts mixed with mumbling.

“You can do like this? Then December will be English month.”

And just like that, the festivities were finished.

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