OK, so I have been delinquent. People have asked for more about the sheep, so let me tell you. I went to the Archery Competition in the village of Atsula. I would guess that most towns and villages have a “Datsan”, a Buddhist temple. Most competitions have some connection to the local Datsan. In Atsula it was no different. This adds a spiritual dimension to these competitions that can be heavy.
I rode in a car for the two hour trip with three other men from Ulan-Ude. Along the route the men would often roll down the windows and throw some uncooked rice and or a few small coins out of the car. This is done at specific “holy” places, generally at the tops of rises or hills. The purpose of this is to appease the spirits so that the road will be safe. Inevitably I get the opportunity to tell them why I do not participate and the hope that I have in the Lord God and his protection.
When we arrived in Atsula, there were already other archers there. By the time we were shooting there were 38 of us. Archers come from all regions to participate and it is like a big reunion. Everyone knows each other and the atmosphere of camaraderie includes lots of helping each other and shared laughter.
When the arrows stopped flying, each of the first four places won both some sheep and money. The first three places were won by one person from each of the three vehicles from Ulan-Ude. Taking care of the money was not a problem, but what to do with the seven sheep was a different question. At first, our winners started leading away some of the big sheep, but they were stopped and told those were for the Buryat traditional wrestlers. They ended up with seven of the spring/summer lambs.
It was decided that all of the sheep would be put into the back of the station-wagon (the car I had been riding in). Of course then some other place had to be found for the bows, arrows, gear, and miscellaneous bags. A place also had to be found for a couple of the passengers, myself included.
- A nice cozy ride for seven lambs…
I found a seat in the van and off we went. Although it was only late afternoon, the sun was already setting and the frosty winter twilight had set in. About a half hour later we turned off the road, bounced along a rough track for a little and stopped at a small hut and some sheep pens. We hauled the sheep out of the station-wagon and put them in one of the pens. At this point we untied their legs and let them run free with the other sheep. One particularly ornery ovine (sheep), got away from us and led a merry chase even though his front legs were still tied together.
Unloading the lambs–holding on to them was not easy.
At this point we resumed our positions in the vehicles to continue our homeward journey. After we were seated and traveling again, I asked “What just happened?” The short of the story, as it was then explained to me, is that the sheep were too small for a barbeque, ergo they would let them grow until next year. One of the men, Reem’cheen, from Ulan-Ude, (not one of the winners) had an acquaintance who raised sheep in the area. Reemcheen called his friend and was told to bring the sheep out which is what we had done. Now they will stay there until the winners want them. I am not sure how they will tell them apart or how the sheep herder will receive recompense for keeping them, but nobody seemed worried about these questions.
All three vehicles then stopped on the fringe of Ulan-Ude and celebrated the “last” competition of the year. I had a good time sharing and talking with men that I have come to know, love and desire that they come to know the Good Shepherd; I even had the opportunity to tell them that as we went around and shared our good wishes for the group.
Alan (who has not yet won any sheep)
- Prizes for the Buryat archery and wrestling competition winners.
- Winter coats over traditional Buryat robes look interesting, but when the breeze is biting, no one cares.