This became the familiar greeting during this past week, which means, “Happy Naadam!” Another familiar saying was, “erin gurvan naadam,” which means the “three games of men”–of course we’re talking about wrestling, horse racing, and archery. These are very “manly” games but, in recent years, females have started to participate in archery and horse-racing—NEVER wrestling, however. The story is told of a time long ago when a female won the wrestling championship by disguising herself, so the wrestling uniform was changed so there was no mistake that a wrestler was indeed, a male. The Opening Ceremonies were last Saturday, but the city shut down the previous Thursday. All the senior couples attended this event but the Francoms were too busy administering the Michigan Test back at the Bayanzurkh Building. After all, we had been to the ceremony last year and the young people were all wanting to take the Michigan Test that day even though we gave them other options. On our way home afterwards, the streets and parking lots were so vacant. Everyone must have been at the stadium! When we arrived home, we turned on the TV and decided we might have had the best seat of all. It was colorful and full of Mongolian pomp and ceremony but it wore thin on us Americans when the wrestlers come out ready to beat the world.
Sunday was the usual day but many Mongolians were “out in the country-side” as church attendance was way down. Some have summer homes while others pitch a tent and let the kids enjoy their vast new playground. This seems to continue most of the summer until school starts. It seems to be a magical time for summer-time pleasures and we love less traffic to dodge as well as quieter surroundings inside the city.
On Sunday night, we were all invited to go to visit a horse breeder the next day. He had several winning horses in the Naadam races. We were looking forward to an interesting day, not having any idea what to expect. When we met on Monday, all eight of us piled into a meeker van–a 12 passenger van than packs in at least 20-30 people and acts like a bus as it picks people up and delivers them to other locations around town. This meeker was owned by a church member and we hired him for the day. We were off! We traveled about an hour away and found ourselves in a huge grassy area with gers and huts set up. It was an unexpected cold and rainy day but we found the bleachers and waited. We purchased some rain gear and waited some more. Finally, the crowd got excited, people left their seats to go stand by the fences, and the horses started coming in. The jockeys were mere boys—6 to 10 years in age but they were in control and wanting to be first. We’re still not sure where the finish line was but we all clapped and then filed out. All the gers and huts were making Khuusers (the traditional Naadam food) and hoping for a good day of business. They sold kites, umbrellas, toys, ice cream and other food but it was just cold and wet. In America, little boys would have been riding around on bikes as they visited and looked for adventure. In Mongolia, little boys were riding around on horses as they visited and looked for adventure. We had to always be watching because a horse is not something you want to run into! Oh, and we watched where we stepped, too! We bought some chicken and pizza and returned to the meeker because we had a schedule to keep. As we left, we could tell that the best part of the day was just about to begin as the cars were lined up, three deep, to enter where we were leaving. President Benson had warned all missionaries NOT to go to the horse races—remember, we thought we were going to see a BREEDER—because the atmosphere gets a little wild with lots of drinking. We were thinking that it was good to be leaving since all the cars told us it was going to be a wild afternoon and evening.
On Tuesday, we found ourselves at a Zone Conference and President Benson instructed the missionaries in some proselyting ideas. He modeled it for them, and then had us all teaching one another. Good helps for the young ones and a good refresher course for us seniors.
We went into work for a few hours on Wednesday and it was the two of us, the mice (I hope not) and the guard up at the main entrance. We finally walked to lunch with another couple at a new hotel called, The Shangralaa. WOW!!! It’s has a new restaurant and is it ever posh! They had a luncheon buffet and we loved every minute of it—including the mango crepes for dessert. It’s the first place we’ve been where we received a glass of water without asking and the server made sure it stayed full–a touch of home!
Thursday, we were back to work as usual but that night we continued our celebration by attending the Ballet. It wasn’t like watching Swan Lake but was more like a ballet recital. The young people were very talented and quite entertaining and our men really smiled when it was over in 45 minutes!
So, “Saikhan Naadarai” is over, the cars are out on the roads again, the church employees are slowly coming back to work, the stores are opening their doors, and the people are milling about like they used to, unless they stayed in the country-side. It looks like it was a holiday that didn’t disappoint anyone.
We learned this morning that a dear friend of 35 years passed away. Dennis Banks was a kind and gentle man. He was a true servant of the Lord and all His children. He loved the gospel. He loved his family. He knew how to serve in such a humble way. He survived a cancer ordeal many years ago when no one thought he would and it crept its way back into his body once again. His wife is as amazing as he was and she will continue on serving as they always did. We are grateful that she has wonderful children who will watch over her and we know that she will rely on her memories of their great life together. May we all strive to be true servants of the Lord as we work to be eternal families bound together in love, forever. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Banks family at this time.
Please love and care for your families!
Elder Francom & Sister Francom