Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Indian dress-up day

It seemed like we had a holiday every month in Malaysia. The country celebrated the three major religions and so we had Chinese New year, Buddha’s birthday and Wesak day, along with Indian Thaipusam, Deepavali and the Muslim celebration of Hari Raya at the end of the month-long Ramadam fasting. Malaysia also did the more Western traditions of Halloween and Christmas too, decorating all the malls with giant Christmas trees and baubles, and you even could buy Easter chocolate bunnies in springtime.

The school made the most of these festivals, incorporating with their cultural studies and reading stories or doing related artwork. The school would hold a dress-up party before the festival, with traditional foods from the religious celebration. Our first such day was the Indian Deepavali (also known as Divali in England) or the festival of lights in autumn. In class Nina made a candle lamp and Marc wrote about it. The day before the festival the kids came home with a note in the cahier de jour, a day-to-day planner for teacher-parent communication. Habillez-vous on style Indian demain! Dress up as an Indian tomorrow !

This amazed me, firstly it was the night before, and I had no time to visit Little India to stock on a child-size sari for Nina and Indian pyjamas for Marc. Secondly I found the idea of the kids dressing-up as Indians rather odd, when the school had several mixed Indian-French families, who might find it insulting. But Nina insisted that ‘everyone else will be dressed-up!’ and not wishing to humiliate her as the only child not in the mood I agreed. Sorting through our fancy-dress box we had nothing Indian-like, only a fairy, nurse or pink butterfly costume. At six pm I dashed over to Liz, our Indian neighbour in the condo. She was helpful and told me Nina would need lots of bangles to jingle on her arms and a red spot like a married lady. She found some brightly-coloured saris and shirts. Although they were too big for four-year-old Nina, they gave me an idea. At home I found my turquoise-blue cotton beach wrap decorated with tiny beads that we wrapped around her sari-style. I glued on some extra sequins for effect. We borrowed Liz’s collection of bangles and with a dot of red lipstick on her forehead she was ready for the day! Marc was not so keen on dressing-up and just wore a t-shirt with an Indian elephant.

The maternelle or pre-school part of the school was enchanting, tiny Indian princesses danced around the classroom, covered in shiny silks and jangling jewelry. The boys were dressed-up too, in miniature Indian suits and pyjamas and looked fantastic. Three Indian ladies came to make a beautiful Mandela design of coloured rice on the floor and later there was a dance and some Indian sweets and cakes to try. The classroom assistant in Nina’s class was an Indian-Malaysian and she drew henna patterns on the children’s hands. I was impressed at the way the school integrated the culture of Malaysia. I checked the calendar for the following festival, so we could have our costumes ready for the next time…

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