Monday, November 10, 2008

International Week

64 Countries
International Week started with a ceremony during the last period of the day on Monday. I didn’t really know what to expect, but I didn’t have a class of students, so I wandered down to the gym. The only seats left were by the kindergarten class. I’ve never really observed a group of 5 year olds together; they were a little wiggly. Two students emceed the ceremony and introduced the Flag Ceremony. A student from Argentina walked into the gym, carrying the blue and white flag with a sun that I remember and love. Everyone clapped. ISPS has students from 64 different countries, and each country was represented by a student flag carrier. I know I’m a social studies teacher, so obviously I like world stuff, but I tear up at seeing so much of the world represented in one room and imagining the pride the students felt at representing their country. It was like a mini-opening ceremony at the Olympics except that all of the students were wearing traditional dress instead of dorky hats and shorts. The Italian girl, my student, Martina, wore a beautiful embroidered dress, the Kenyan girl, a high schooler, wore a colorful dress and head wrap, the American boy, Matthew who plays volleyball with us, wore his Eagle Scouts shirt, and the Venezuelan girl wore a very risqué white cropped peasant shirt and low-waisted patterned skirt with supermodel hair. She looked great, and, I guess, traditional.

My favorite, though, was the tiny Spanish representative. She wore a hot pink flamenco dress. As soon as she got near my seat, the kindergartners went wild. Nobody was still sitting on the chairs, they were tipping back in them, standing on them, crawling over the teacher, shouting at the girl, and jumping up and down hysterically. I think she was in their class. It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

International Week ended with an International Food Festival on Saturday. We’d gone out Friday, so we made our way there about 11 AM. The entire gym was filled with decorations and food. It looked just like the Milwaukee Food Festival we used to go to for Spanish class. Every country, again, was represented with multiple dishes and multiple moms behind every stall explaining what everything was. We made our way around the gym, eating and socializing. We ran into a teacher, Jason from Australia, with food on his chin and his shirt. He mumbled, “I’ve been here for two hours. Don’t eat any of the rice, dumplings, or starch—it’s all a waste. The best is the Syrian-Lebanese booth. I’ve been there three times.” The food here in T&T is okay, but has none of the variety that we are used to. We crave Mexican food and Asian foods of all kinds. Fortunately, these two cuisines were well-represented with sushi, slow-roasted meats, and lots of sweet milky Latin desserts. I tried to memorize which kids I saw talking to which moms so I could bug them later for recipes for Sopa de Amor from Panama, alfajores from Argentina, and tortillas from Spain.
Afterwards, when I was exclaiming to Alicia how impressed I was with the food, she said, “Well, that’s what happens when you have a bunch of rich mothers who don’t have jobs. They cook and decorate.” Our kids are rich. About half of them are from international families, from the UK, Australia, Korea, Venezuela, whose families are in oil and the other half are wealthy Trinis with local businesses. These international kids are 11 and 12 years old and a lot of them have lived in 3-4 different countries already. They are much more easy-going, confident, and tolerant than the kids I am used to. One British kid, one of my favorites, Max, told me he just moved here from Cairo. I couldn’t even think of a good question, I mean, how do you explain Cairo even when you have a 7th grade vocabulary? So I said, “How was the weather?” “Hot.” “How was the food?” “Terrible.”“Did you like it?” “It was brilliant.” For geography, I gave my kids a blank piece of paper and asked them to draw the world. In Seattle, my 7th graders would work on this for 10 min. and some could draw the US, some could draw Africa. That’s about it. Here, the kids were still working after 30 minutes and they drew and labeled about 60 countries. Most of the wealthy Trinis are from this giant conglomerate family that supposedly owns most of Trinidad. There are nine cousins in Grade 6 and there are 36 students in Grade 6. The nine are often referred to as “The Cousins.” The matriarch is originally from Syria, so the kids don’t look Trini, but because they’ve lived here their whole lives, and most of their parents have, too, they are Trini. These families don’t own stores in the mall. They own the mall. It’s like teaching Kelly Kellog or Pam Post—most of the food in the grocery stores carries the same names our kids do. Aaron told his kids he wanted to go somewhere for a Poetry Café and a few kid asked him which restaurants or shops he wanted because they could get them. (He chose the Haggen-Daas.) The vice-president of FIFA is one of my kid’s grandfathers, so he gets box-seat tickets to all the soccer games. I’m working on that one.

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