The sun is hot and we are all sticky with sweat – behind the knees, in the creases of my elbows, and the sun beats at the back of my neck. The warm wind doesn’t cool so much as cover everyone with a layer of dust that is the cherry on top to the already grimy feeling of Saturdays.
But it’s not so bad.
The stands are filled with school children and they are a buzz of excitement on the edge of this Mongolian equivalent of a shantytown. It feels just like a track meet of my elementary days. Which is fitting, because it seems that this is exactly that.
Only a third of the kids had come to club that day. Grades 5-11 were busy at a special school event; something to do with soldiers. It seemed to be the day all the new military members-to-be signed up, and others returned. Kids from all the schools in the area were going to be marching and having parades and displays of some sort.
If I sound fuzzy on the details it’s because I am.
When it was time for the older kids’ afternoon session and we only had 3 girls, we decided to do something different. We all headed down to watch the festivities and spend some quality time with the kids, maybe find some ice cream.
Which brings us to the arena, of sorts. After a decent walk and hot, crowded bus ride we finally find the right place. We wade through squinting kids who stare at the foreigners who showed up.
“Where’s Mungoona?” we ask the children who emerge from the crowds of white, blue, green, uniforms to greet us with hugs, and stares of astonishment. Our club kids.
At the furthest set of bleachers we spot our girl, Moogie. Tsenday is here too, with a white shirt and red, burnt face and look! There are the other boys!
Amid the chants of schoolmates and greetings passed between our parties we get the update. The marching is done. It’s races now, obviously. Moogie has ran one and has 2 more. They’ve been here most of the day.
We settle in the stands and I tug on the sleeve of my girl next to me to discern that our runner is in yellow and we arrived just in time to see him bring in first place. I cheer when everyone else does. When in public, do as the others do; rule #1 of participation.
I love it.
This is the kids’ world. Their neighbourhood, streets and dust and shouting and friends.
I love overhearing the little boys as they nudge their friends and point out “gadad-hoon, gadad-hoon!” This is not a place foreigners frequent, let alone come to random track meets. Parent’s don’t even come to things like this.
I think of my mom’s words. “Enter their world Anna. Make an effort, and enter their world. It will mean a lot. And if it doesn’t, you’ll at least learn something.”
Wise words, Mom. They ring true once again.