On the eve of Erigjeedma’s* fifteenth birthday a wave of unrest had spread through the people of Aga. Stalin had craftily managed to take control of the Bolshevik party, and he was laying the heads of his enemies low. Any one who owned livestock was considered rich and therefore an “enemy of the people”. A dark cloud hung over Erigjeedma’s people, Aginsky Buryats, who were traditionally livestock herders.
In 1918, during the Civil War in Russia, groups of her people had fled to China, and Mongolia. Maybe they could join them? Her people gathered and weighed the options. It was late March, sub-zero on the steppe. A cold trek to China, Mongolia, or stay put and hope for the best? Erigjeedma’s family threw in their lot for China. The escape was on!
Thirty families collected their livestock together for their flight across the border. The sheep herd Erigjeedma decided, had become a lake of bleating, roiling bodies stretching to the horizon. In the flurry of preperation, the people realized they would have to abandon the sheep, taking only their cattle. Bundled in long fur-lined deels (traditional clothing), under cover of darkness they mounted up and rode for their lives.
In the inky blackness of early morn, Erigjeedma dozed off on the back of her plodding horse, fears forgotten. She awoke to the bark of voices demanding in Russian for them to halt. Commotion, screams, two flashes of rifle fire pierced darkness!
Presently the caravan began trudging southward again. Erigjeedma’s eyes fell upon the soldiers carelessly smoking as they stood over motionless black shapes. Riding into China, her last memory of Russia sat like a black mark on her mind.
Her people rode across the steppe until midday. Gathering everyone together they found one more was missing. His disappearance remains a mystery. This was Erigjeedma’s welcome to a land called Shenehen, her home in China.
(*The facts of Erigjeedma’s story are true, I have dramatized it for better reading.)