Saturday, December 17, 2005

Home Sweet Home

Well, I arrived safely back in the good old US of A after about 36 hours of travel. Bleah. But the trip went about as well as you could hope for: no major delays and I even had a row to myself from Frankfurt to Chicago. AND my very own little movie screen so I could choose my movie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory—boy Johnny Depp can be so weird). And because my mom is awesome, when I arrived home I found a basket of bath goodies waiting in my bathroom – sugar scrubs and bath salts and special shampoo and a shower puff – and I’ve spent much of the last few days happily submerged. I managed to avoid most of the hassles of jetlag. I slept 13 hours my first night home and have been good to go ever since. Good thing too. It’s the holidays, who has time to be jet-lagged?


My friend Deepa got married on the 12th of December and sadly I couldn’t be there for the event. I would very much have enjoyed witnessing an Indian wedding. Luckily, though, I was able to attend one of her pre-wedding events, known as the Haldi. (I had to miss the other pre-wedding event, the Mehendi, at which the bride’s henna is applied to her hands and feet). The Haldi was a women-only evening which took place in my friend’s home and revolved around the application of a sort of body scrub, believed to make the bride extra beautiful for her wedding. Amidst much singing, laughing, dancing, and ribald jokes, the women attending take turns smearing the bride-to-be in a thick, yellow paste made of turmeric powder, jasmine oil, and milk. It is gooey and smells a little funny and it literally goes all over her body. At least, as much as we could reach within the bounds of Indian propriety.

There is a protocol to this application, as well. First the family members went up and rubbed several handfuls on. Then the married women. Then the “spinsters” (anyone unmarried—I wasn’t quite sure what to make of being called a “spinster!”). And in return, Deepa would smear a stripe of the goop on our faces as well. A kindly Indian lady suggested to my friend and I (the only white faces present) that we might want to wipe it off quickly as it can stain the skin.

Coloration of the skin is exactly what they want to happen to the bride. The paste leaves a slightly yellowish tinge to the skin which, when covered by foundation makeup at the wedding, is supposed to make the bride’s skin glow. It is also thought to render her skin temporarily lighter which is considered a great sign of beauty. Fairness is highly prized in India.

When we had run out of paste, the young women spilled out into the yard which had been transformed for the reception. A huge tent had been erected and was lavishly decorated inside with tapestries and rugs and a bunch of chairs. We cranked up the Indian Bangra music and danced together. Or at least, the Indian women danced. I mainly stood there, awestruck by how good they were and horribly aware of how good I am NOT. Indian dancing, like Latin dancing, requires one to move one’s hips in ways that this white girl simply cannot comprehend. Eventually we got cold and slipped away, happy to have participated in the fun.

Going Down Day

When working at a boarding school in a remote area, comparisons to Harry Potter are inevitable. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to pretend that they work at Hogwarts? We even have school “houses” though they don’t mean as much as they do in HP. But one of the events that is most reminiscent of the wizarding world has got to be the tradition of Going Down Day.

Going Down Day is the last day of the semester. The kids come to school just long enough for one last assembly where they sit quietly, politely ignoring everything the principal says until he solemnly announces “you are dismissed” at which point a pandemonium ensues the likes of which boggle the mind. Shrieking and cheering and lots of hugs goodbye, a few tears and much racing about as the kids prepare to leave the school. This they do en masse, escorted by a number of teacher chaperones including Dana Crider, a burly high school math teacher who bears more than a passing resemblance to Hagrid in terms of stature and devotion to the students (though not, thankfully, in body hair or fondness for dangerous fire-breathing animals).

Dana shepherds the posse of students into waiting school buses and they all proceed down the mountainside together. The closest major town with a train station is Dehra Duhn, located at the foot of the mountain. All the kids are loaded onto a train—the Shatabdi Express (see, even the name is similar!)—and they travel as far as Delhi together before scattering to their homes around the world. It’s very fun. And very Harry.

Monday, December 05, 2005

The Party Report

Well, I am pleased to report that the first annual Mt. Hermon Holiday Shindig went off splendidly. And this despite (or maybe even because of) the power failure half-way through. There’s something quite perfect about singing Christmas carols by firelight, accompanied by an acoustic guitar and a violin.

The day started out on a bit of a stressful note when I awoke to discover that we had no electricity. So much for my plans to do laundry and bake all day! But it eventually came back on and Joanna and I made use of the waiting time to finish up the last of the paper chains, construct a large glittery “Happy Christmas” sign for over the mantle, and move furniture about. I must say I am rather proud of the transformation enacted upon our dining room. Ordinarily this room is utterly bare of furniture and the ugly, stained fibrous floor covering, boarded up fireplace, and robin’s egg blue walls create very little atmosphere. But do not despair! Kate and Joanna, interior decorators, to the rescue!

We borrowed a couple rugs to cover the stains on the floor, hung Christmas lights on the walls, and bright garlands from the lights and doors. A friend came by and set up an electric keyboard in the corner which we festooned with glittery gold cardboard stars. We pulled a couple chairs and a couch in from the sunroom and taped colored bells and trees to the walls and the place began to look festive. And then, the crowning achievement. Joanna suggested we un-board the fireplace, just to see was there. And lo and behold! A GORGEOUS, old-fashioned, wrought iron fireplace. But could the chimney possibly be open? It could! (We tested this by having Joanna climb on the roof and look down the chimney while I shone a flashlight up it). So, as our guests arrived, they were greeted by the cheerful and utterly Christmassy sight of a roaring fire where just yesterday there was an ugly piece of sheet metal. It was grand. And when the lights went out, the light of the fire kept the party going.

So we all ate snacks and visited and sang till our throats were sore. Joanna’s mom came dressed as Mrs. Clause and read of The Polar Express. Brian spiked the cider with rum and Joanna’s sugar cookies just kept coming. Jamie taught us hand gestures to “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and everyone joined in on the chorus of “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I myself wore reindeer antlers, which more than one person said “suited me.” I’m not sure what that means, exactly, but I took it as a compliment.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Christmas Spirit

And speaking of Christmas carols with altered lyrics, I have been advertising my upcoming holiday party in just such a fashion. Saturday night my Mt. Hermon housemates and I are hosting a Seasonal Soiree and I've been sending e-mails to my colleagues, musically inviting them to the event. Here's one of my better carols. To the tune of "Jingle Bells."

Stomping up the hill
One chilly winter night
At last you’ll get a thrill--
Mt. Hermon in sight!

Christmas lights aglow
Music in the air

Your heart will rise and you will know
You’re happy to be there.


Mt. Hermon! Mt. Hermon! Happy Holidays!
Come and join us for the fun this coming Saturday – HEY!

Mt. Hermon! Mt. Hermon! Happy Holidays!
Come and join us for the fun this coming Saturday.

Baby Jesus and the Stinky Pig

This morning I went to see the elementary school kids do a Christmas pageant. And wow, I dare you to find something cuter than a crowd of first and second graders dressed up as animals and singing Christmas carols. Their pageant was the story of the birth of Christ told from the point of view of the attending animals – sheep, donkeys, camels, etc. They had lines to recite (all memorized—I was very impressed) and sang Christmas carols with slightly altered lyrics. At one point the camels went marching through the audience singing “Those wise men are breaking our backs, loading us with big heavy packs” to the tune of We Three Kings. And a chorus of sheep sang “Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the sheep,” ending the verse with “echoed back their joyous bleat.” It was fantastic.

Their costumes were super cute as well. Each animal wore appropriately colored clothing (yellow for the camels, brown for the donkeys, white for the sheep) and then each had a color coordinated baseball cap with the appropriate ears, eyes, and sometimes noses, attached. So the camels had long noses and small ears and the donkey had big floppy ears attached to their baseball caps. The effect was great. You knew immediately who the sheep were because they had a profusion of cotton balls stuck to theirs.

The pageant was made particularly memorable by the addition of several animals not frequently appearing in manger scenes: two dogs, a lion and…a stinky pig. The lion represented the current King of the Beasts who, although initially wary of the usurper, eventually gives Jesus his crown. But the best was the pig. Early in the production, she came to see what all the fuss was about and was shunned by the other (apparently Jewish) animals. Imagine a small child dressed as a sheep pointing dramatically to the small child dressed in pink leg-warmers and wearing a snout on her hat and saying “You are unclean! Ewwwww. Go away!”

But of course, in the end, even the stinky pig is allowed into the manger to see baby Jesus because Jesus loves everyone—even if you’re stinky.