Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall Festival, 15 October 2010


Our school has a high percentage of kids from Western cultures, most of them homesick. Most of the staff is Canadian or American. And many of the non-Western kids have heard about Halloween and think it's a great holiday. So, we couldn't quite ignore Halloween, could we?

We did what schools in the US, who are concerned about being politically correct and culturally sensitive, do. We had a Fall Festival.

Our Fall Festival was on Friday, 15 October 2010, from 6 to 8 pm, and was "open" to the public. That is, we didn't invite massive amounts of strangers, but we did let others know about the event. (I'm not sure how, I was told that other foreigners were told about this and allowed to take their children here, and that they were grateful for the chance to celebrate Halloween.)

This is the school's first year with a gym and auditorium, and so everyone was excited that the Fall Festival could be celebrated there, and not in the teachers' individual classrooms. Teachers had to come up with an activity. Tables and chairs were provided.

My activity was the "Mummy Wrap." I'll be forever grateful to the parent who, 4 years ago, hosted a Halloween party in my classroom in the US. She found this game on the Internet, and it has proven to be a great success. It's so simple: get tons of rolls of white toilet paper. Put students in pairs. One child has to wrap his partner up as a mummy. Whoever finishes first, wins. Children LOVE this.

I requested that my students bring in rolls of white toilet paper, finding it a bit funny that I had to specify color. The cheap toilet paper here is brown. The not-so-cheap toilet paper comes in a multitude of colors, including white.

I set up my booth (meaning, I taped the sign that the children had helped me make, and I brought out the rolls of toilet paper) and waited for the evening to get started.

I had plenty of candy to pass out, as all the parents had been asked to bring in one kilo of candy. In Astana, there is no shortage of shops that sell candies by the kilo.

The gym soon became crowded and noisy. Adults and children were dressed in various costumes. Kazakh seemed to be a popular costume for non-Kazakhs. (Think about it--what's a good costume that you can find last-minute in a city that doesn't celebrate Halloween and thus doesn't have many costumes for sale at this time of year? A Kazakh dress!) I dressed as an Indian (from India), thanks to my Indian assistant, who dressed as a Kazakh. Sophia wore the Kazakh dress that I bought for her last year.

There were mummies, vampires, witches, princesses, fairies, Darth Vader... everything you'd expect to find at a traditional American Halloween celebration. Dozens of nationalities were represented at this event, everyone clearly happy and excited. Two American teachers had spend the afternoon getting their costumes ready, creating theirs from scratch, using cardboard and other items. The pre-school teacher dressed as Khan Shatyr, the big tent-like mall. His wife dressed as Beyterek, the tall tower with a golden sphere at its top. Their son dressed as the tall building known as the "lighter building" due to its uncanny resemblance to a cigarette lighter. Their costumes were very cute, funny, and original. And proof that you don't need to buy your costume or have brought yours from America to have an awesome costume!

The vice principal and his wife, Sophia's teacher, came dressed as each other. The v.p. even shaved his beard so he could look like his wife, and his wife painted a beard on her face. They looked awesome.

My friend R. and her daughter came. She was tired form a long work week, but her daughter was clearly excited to celebrate Halloween. We hardly saw her and Sophia all evening, and whenever we did, they were having a blast and getting a LOT of candy.

The Mummy Wrap was a lot of fun. I gave up making it a contest, kids just wrapped each other up for fun (and candy). They soon discovered that playing with the used toilet paper (after someone had become a mummy, they tore the toilet paper off) was just as much fun as wrapping someone up. I started to create a new game--who can collect the most toilet paper?--because the toilet paper was spreading across the entire gym! What a mess!

But then I talked to the principal, who waved away my concerns about the mess. Toilet paper is relatively easy to clean (that is, clean toilet paper--it's not sticky or messy or anything) and he had already arranged to have cleaners clean the entire gym the next day. All I needed to worry about, he said, was stuff that was mine. Don't worry about cleaning, at all.

What a relief!

So I let the kids play and soon it was a free-for-all in my little corner of the gym, children and some adults throwing toilet paper around, making piles of toilet paper and diving in, burying each other in toilet paper. All the while some children continued to make each other into mummies and get candy.

I talked to some parents about their kids. They seemed really happy with this school so far, how their kid was doing, how their kid was feeling. My general impression about this school is that the kids are happy, and that most parents who work and live far from their native home are most concerned with how happy their child is at school. And--surprise, surprise!--happy children learn better than unhappy children.

And teachers in such an environment--where the happiness of children and staff is a priority--are better teachers. I really know my children and feel confident talking to the parents.

At 8 pm, we left. The gym was a mess, Sophia and her friend were excited and overloaded with candy, and we grown-ups were ready to go home!

A great Halloween!!

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