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Friday, March 23, 2007

Harmony Day at Sunshine College

I usually keep my more general posts for my other blog, but since folk seem to have been finding their way to this one rather than the other, I think I might start off posting here.

This week in Australia we celebrated Harmony Day, March 21st. It's sort of an adaptation of the UN's International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Because the school where I work is a United Nations in itself, with sixty nationalities studying there, one of our staff suggested we make a week of it and have a big party/concert on the last day.

The kids had been rehearsing for weeks - Vietnamese girls with Australian accents who are, all the same, studying their language with Anh Le, one of our Vietnamese teachers, who has been doing this sort of thing with students for the last few years, Islander girls and boys, who worked out their own routine and used the library reading room because they had to have a teacher "supervising" them (I let them get on with it, but I was there) and African girls, most of them my students, who also had their own routine worked out. The Vietnamese girls helped Anh prepare a lunch, and staff also brought their traditional foods - alas, I hadn't the energy or time, but there was food in plenty, a real feast. I promised one of the African language aides my mother's honey cake recipe in exchange for the recipe for Sudanese-style porridge.Staff and students alike were encourage to come in national dress. I, alas, have none to wear, unless it's a t shirt, shorts and a tembel hat, but I would NOT look good in shorts at this point in my life... However, my African students came looking like exotic, jewelled birds, even one of the boys who can be a bit of a pain, looking great in a red kaftan. Arok, one of the Dinka aides, looked quite spectacular in an embroidered lavender robe and hat, as did Margaret the other in her African clothes. I overheard an Anglo girl sighing to a Vietnamese student that she wished *she* had a culture. I tried pointing out to her that England does have a culture and that Tolkien practically wrote a love letter to it, via the Shire. I must work on her some more.

In the library, we have an ancient, but working, video camera. I really should have asked for a tripod, but I hauled it up on to my shoulder, after some of my students helped me work out how to set the thing up, and recorded.

And wasn't it wonderful! The Vietnamese girls, who had been rehearsing a dance and a song (that awful Disney song, "It's A Small World After All"), opted for a sort of fashion parade in which they glided gracefully down the library in Vietnamese dress, carrying parasols and fans. They all looked utterly gorgeous and I was startled when it was announced by one of the guest speakers that there would be a "Miss Harmony" title, voted on by the students. There were no hard feelings among the girls, but I still think there was nothing to choose among them.

The African girls did their routine, firstly the four who are in my Year 7 class, all of them delightful young women (one of them is the younger sister of Amani, who made me laugh so much last year, but is much gentler, another the sister of Gum, whom I taught last year - she and her other brother both share Gum's sense of humour and are very likable.). Other girls joined them, Year 9 girls, and Winnie, who is quite large, made me realise why large women are valued in some countries. She shook her backside at the audience like a belly-dancer shakes her hips and with just as much control. I caught it all on video!

The Islander students were amazing. The girls danced their gentle, swaying hula, while the boys sat in the front, pounding their hands in rhythm, waving arms and rowing invisible canoes, colour fully dressed in sarongs. Somehow it all fitted together. I knew most of the students personally and believe me, some of them - a minority, true - are right royal pains, but you could forgive everything in those few moments. One of the boys, in particular, may be a pain, but he walks as if he's dancing, at all times, and is passionate about dance of the macho, strutting type. We actually had a laugh together, the other day, about family members who *will* play Sound of Music over and over...