Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Happy New Year!

Never has a New Year’s Eve day been so hot. According to it was 95 degrees Fahrenheit but felt like 103, in the school courtyard where we celebrated the Bengali New Year today. It was a colorful and spirited celebration.

I managed my own hair and makeup this morning, but still required help with the sari when I got to school. The colors of the  New Year are red and white, which anyone would have guessed immediately upon arriving as everyone was decked out in those colors. Since arriving here I’ve strived to embrace as much of the culture as possible, so in order to recognize this tradition, I borrowed an “approved” sari from Morjina. Aside from my skin tone, I fit right in.

Classes were canceled for the day – instead the students arrived in shifts to enjoy performances, food, music, face painting, henna, and other fun activities.

First up was the Senior Section. The students were hardly recognizable. The boys, dressed in punjabis, were looking fairly grown up, but it was the girls that amazed me. They look like kids dressed in their school uniforms on regular days, but today, they looked like young women in their glitzy saris, with their hair down and their faces made up. The girls in particular seemed proud to be wearing their traditional dress and they all had an admirable sense of confidence about them.

Though the sound system experienced some technical difficulties during the seniors' performances, they did great. There were several groups and individuals who performed traditional dances. Another set of kids did a fashion show – displaying not only the day’s colors, but a much more extensive palette – turquoise, pink, orange and so on.

The stand out among the first set of performances however, was a song which was sung by the winner of the school’s music competition. The student belted out the song – sending chills up my arm, which were obviously not due to the temperature. He did great and it was wonderful to see how supportive and encouraging his classmates were. They cheered for him from the beginning and erupted in applause every time he hit a dramatic note, which was often.

After the seniors, the Early Years Section arrived. They were, to put it simply, adorable. Two and three year olds paraded around the covered courtyard with their parents. The boys again wore little punjabis, while the girls wore the smallest saris imaginable. Though they are only a few years old, they too were wearing make up and had their hair done up in fancy ways. The tiny bangles on their wrist clinking together - they jingled as they walked around.

Mehjabin and Ramisa, two of the Tulips that I taught during my first month, performed a dance routine with several other nursery students. The bell-covered anklets they wore made a beautiful sound as they moved on stage. Their poise and grace surprised me. No wonder the proud parents were all pushing forward, eager to get a closer look and snap another picture of their precious little girls.

During both the Senior and Early Years sessions I was busy walking around checking out the various booths, eating food, and taking pictures, but once the Middle Section arrived I had a job to do. Tania and I were assigned to sell sweets.

The kids were each allowed to bring 300 taka to school (the equivalent of about $4). For some this was probably the first time they were managing their own money. It was cute to watch them weigh their options and dig through their wallets and purses to figure out whether they had enough money left. Thanks to Tania’s superb saleswoman skills our stall nearly sold out.

There was no shortage of things to see at the carnival today. That coupled with the festive atmosphere and great company (and a few fans) made it almost easy to forget about the heat.  On the way out, I stopped by the henna station where Azmoon had just enough time to decorate my left palm before it was time to go. 

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