Tag Archives: American Embassy School

O, Man! Forensics and fun in Muscat

Forensics – Not just for dead people.
That’s the slogan on the back of our team T-shirts.
As one of the MESAC Forensics Team coaches, I heard a lot of surprised exclamations such as, “Wow! You guys do forensics? I didn’t know you were trained in that!” Sigh … It’s not “forensic science” à la CSI. It’s forensics à la Socrates. In other words, the students compete in debate, public speaking and dramatic interpretation of monologues or duet scenes.

According to the American Forensic Association,

“Forensics” is a word rooted in the Western world’s classical experience. The Greeks organized contests for speakers that developed and recognized the abilities their society felt central to democracy. These exercises acquired the title “forensics,” derived from the Latin term “forensis” and closely related to forum. Because the training in this skill of public advocacy, including the development of evidence, found one of its important venues in the law courts, the term “forensic” has also become associated with the art and science of legal evidence and argument.

Our school is a member of MESAC (Middle East South Asia Conference), which also includes schools from Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. As one of four American Embassy School coaches (a fifth stayed behind in India), I traveled with 20 amazing high-schoolers to represent AES at the 2013 MESAC Forensics Tournament, April 17-21 in Muscat, Oman.

The American-British Academy (ABA) played host.
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Our fledgling forensics program fielded a debate team for the first time, and this was only the second year we participated in acting and speaking events. Nevertheless:
* Two of the debaters beat last year’s winners to earn a bronze medal.
* We sent 12 students to the finals.
* Seven kids came home with medals.
* AES placed second overall.

This is what we liked to see! Lots of “AES” on the results posters.
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We adults felt excited for the medalists, but our greatest fulfillment came from watching the growth that occurred over the course of our season. This is a unique team in that students have an opportunity to express themselves in ways that take them far out of their comfort zone. For the oratory event, they wrote, memorized and presented powerful speeches calling for action. Our students addressed mental health in children, women’s rights in India, care of HIV/AIDS patients, Asian stereotypes and parental pressure for perfection. They spoke from the heart, revealing their deepest fears and biggest aspirations.

We may have seen the greatest transformation in our students competing in oral interpretation. They chose challenging pieces of literature to read, and some of the English learners required line-by-line explanations of the meaning before they could start interpreting. They worked so hard, begging for extra coaching time, meeting on weekends, shedding their inhibitions. When one of our 10th-graders took the stage to read “The Orange” by Joyce Carol Oates, she gave it everything she had, leaving the audience disarmed but in awe. Our only senior had brilliantly edited down a scene from “‘Night, Mother” and read the lines for both characters. Her subtle sophisticated performance tricked my mind into thinking there really were two people on stage and her last line forced a catch in my throat as I fought back tears.

There were so many success stories … not a slacker in the bunch. In addition to their work, our kids were kind, friendly and outgoing. They bonded with students from other schools and demonstrated admirable sportsmanship. So proud of them all! I feel incredibly fortunate to work at a school with this caliber of young people.

First day of the tournament at ABA … waiting in the auditorium.
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My good friend Jacqueline, who taught with us in Turkey, now works at The American International School of Muscat. I was hoping to meet up with her during our visit, but the tournament schedule was grueling. Imagine my excitement when she showed up at the ABA coaches lounge! She hung out with us at the school a few times and then surprised me with a ticket to see “Madame Butterfly” at the Royal Opera House. I almost declined, exhausted from a lingering cold and the intensity of the tournament, but I couldn’t resist the lure of a cultural event paired with some Jacq time. The two-year-old Opera House was stunning inside and out. In fact, I may have appreciated the venue even more than the show!
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So much elegance.
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I NEED one of these lamps.
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Jacqueline and me. (I’m the one who looks less like a posh opera-goer and more like a worn-out teacher at the end of a long day.)
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Here’s a cool promotional video from the Royal Opera House website:

Our only other foray into Muscat was a traffic-y bus ride with all the kids and coaches to a souk, a fun market with Omani souvenirs and crafts. We spent about 30 minutes poking around before heading back to our hotel. Students stayed with ABA families, so coaches enjoyed a little downtime. In fact, one of the other coaches had issued a challenge: Which coach could find the best souvenir for one riyal (about $3)? Back at the hotel, the coaches met to compare souvenirs. The AES coaches nailed it. We had purchased a bizarre plastic pull-string toy featuring a Barbie-ish doll riding a sort of bicycle rickshaw with a green alien-ish baby and a rotating umbrella. We turned it into a trophy and gave it temporarily to our MVP. (I’ll post a photo when we get it back.)

Cue the cows … and … action! Mom and Dad see REAL India

India kindly handed my parents a genuine slice of life during their two-week visit.

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Their taste of New Delhi’s daily grind included: pollution in the “red zone,” several power outages, taps running dry, driver had a row with his wife and didn’t show up to take us to work, housekeeper/cook took a day off for her uncle’s funeral, car broke down, dogs in the dumpsters, cows in the road, street kids tapping on the car windows at stoplights, and oh so many more sights, sounds and smells that keep our anxiety levels higher than healthy.

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But set aside your disgust and frustration, and you see another side of India that sparks appreciation, or at least fascination. My parents also experienced:

The costumes, arts, crafts and music from the state of Karnataka (as well as the exuberance of school kids) at the annual Surajkund Mela.

The get-away-from-it-all Aravalli Biodiversity Park‘s twisting path through scrubby acacia trees and wild peacocks, just around the corner from our house.

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The drumming, the dancing, the sequins of the over-the-top Epcot-esque venue and Bollywood stage show at Kingdom of Dreams.

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The levity and intensity of eight Indian men desperately trying to pick out sunglasses for Dad at Ambience Mall.

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The sneeze-inducing spice market, technicolor sari shops and gilded, spangly, tassled wedding accessories during a death-defying rollicking bicycle rickshaw ride through Old Delhi’s congested alleys.

The comfort zone of mini-America at our school and the American Embassy restaurant.

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The time-travelling trip to the Mughal Dynasty in Agra (Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatepur Sikri) and Delhi’s Qutub Minar.

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The saris, the chaos, the smiles, the 10-minute alterations on vintage sewing machines at the local Sarojini Market.

The posh indulgence of a proper breakfast at the Imperial Hotel – twice.

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The relative peace – not counting slum drumming, the high-pitched drone of construction equipment, and bellows of strolling cows – in our leafy Vasant Vihar neighborhood, with help from lovely Raji.

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Poor Dad came down with the flu, or a cold, or pollution-related respiratory problems, poor guy. But overall, we had a great time! Tony and I enjoyed sharing the ups and downs (and fast curves and U-turns) of life in this place! We wanted to show them what we love about Delhi, but ultimately, they saw it all – the stunning and the heart-breaking. Because, really, there’s no other way to experience India.

(The iPhoto slideshows are a bit lame, I admit. I’m looking for a way to easily link photos from Flickr to make slideshows visible on Apple devices… in the meantime, you can check out the photos at my flickr photostream.)

Tibetan spiritual leader tells students in search of peace: Just relax

The most important Tibetan spiritual leader, after the Dalai Lama, visited our school today as part of our Peace and Global Citizens initiatives. His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa arrived with little pomp and sat in the theatre, answering questions from students. Born into a family of nomads in Tibet, Ogyen Trinley Dorje was recognized as the 17th Karmapa as a young child. In 1999, at the age of 14, he left Tibet to meet the exiled Dalai Lama and other teachers in India.

According to the website kagyu.org,

In the case of an enlightened being, rebirths are taken consciously, motivated by a desire to benefit all living beings and made possible by the depth and clarity of an individual’s realization. The first such reincarnation (tulku) was recognized in thirteenth-century Tibet. His name was the Gyalwa Karmapa, “The Victorious One of Enlightened Activity.” Thereafter, he continued to return, generation after generation, until the present seventeenth Karmapa. The Karmapa is said to embody the activity of all the buddhas of the past, present, and future. Citing ancient texts, traditional histories trace his lives back for eons and continue it forward into the distant future.

The Karmapa held several Q&A sessions with students from all grade levels; I attended his session with some middle school kids. The Karmapa leaned forward in his chair to address the students, carefully mulling over each question.

One student asked, “What is the most important value of the Tibetan culture?” The Karmapa responded in a low voice, interspersed with English words, and shared with the audience by a translator, Sister Damcho, an American who lives in a Dharamsala nunnery and frequently works with the Karmapa. “The life that we live is a pretty simple life,” she quoted. “We put at the center of our life altruism, the wish to benefit others. We’re pretty direct and straightforward. I think if you look at Tibetan culture, the most important values at the center of our culture are loving kindness and compassion, and we develop these feelings not just for other human beings but for all forms of life. Whatever we do, whatever activities we engage in, whatever studies we do, we always try to put the value of other beings in the center.”

He was open about neither choosing nor necessarily having fun in his role as Karmapa. In response to the question, “How did you decide to be a Karmapa?” he shook his head and laughed. “Decide?”
Sister Damcho translated: “So actually, I did not decide to be a Karmapa. In the west, people have a lot of choice and generally you decide what you want to study and when you finish your studies, you decide what job or career you want to have, but that was not the case with me. When I was 8 years old, I was just a normal boy. I played with other kids. I had a normal boy’s life. Then some people came and they told me, ‘You’re the Karmapa.’ At that time, I didn’t even understand what the Karmapa was … I thought, if I’m the Karmapa, I’ll probably get a lot of toys. I found out later being a Karmapa is not all that fun. It’s a lot of work and a lot of responsibility and a lot of studying. So becoming the Karmapa was not something I decided. It was more like something that just fell from the sky.”

My favorite bit of advice was the Karmapa’s response to the question, “What can we do to maintain peace?”
“We have so many different things that we’re constantly doing, and there are all these changes going on all the time, so it’s really not that easy, is it? I would say, to put it simply, just relax. Just relax and stay quiet. Generally speaking, this is a difficult question. For you, as kids, to be able to make peace, maybe don’t make it too complicated. Make it simple. Just relax.”

Arriving at AES, the Karmapa gets mobbed by the paparazzi (aka our director, principals and other interested onlookers).
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Getting escorted to the theatre.
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Speaking to the students.
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I feel privileged and grateful today for my school and its commitment to fostering peace. What an honor to share a bit of time with this humble man.

Sparks fly at middle school play practice

I have filled my life with drama this year. School drama, that is.

Today we had a rehearsal for the middle school play, “The Fireworks Maker’s Daughter,” and the drama teacher, Thaba, wanted students to think about the physicality of working with and watching fireworks. Obviously, we won’t set off real fireworks in the theater, so she elicited ideas about how the stagecraft class might design props and explained that dancers will BE the fireworks in some scenes. To spark their imaginations, she brought them all to the field for a mid-day fireworks show.

Students crowded around our visiting fireworks expert, Mohinder, who unloaded a big bag of goodies. Thaba reminded kids to closely monitor the actions involved in lighting fireworks. As the fireworks exploded, shrieked, swirled, whistled, and showered sparks, she encouraged actors and dancers to remember their own physical reactions. Back in the rehearsal space, students debriefed and shared fantastic insights gleaned from the experience.

Such a fun, creative, caring bunch of adults. Such talented, reflective, committed kids. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.
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Patience and appreciation

Yesterday was Back to School Night at the American Embassy School, New Delhi. Here’s what BTSN tends to look like for English as an Additional Language teachers:

Me - Hello, everybody! Thank you for coming. (gesture at PowerPoint) I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and our EAL program.

Hands go up. I call on a parent.
Parent - What does my child need to do to get out of the EAL program?

Me - (smiling) Well, I’ll get to that in a minute. First, I’d like to explain how I work with your child’s teacher to help meet English learning needs and ensure that all kids feel successful in third grade.

Same Parent - Yeah, but how long till they can go to Spanish or French instead?

Me - (still smiling) I promise I will explain our process for transitioning out of EAL, but I think it’s important for everyone to understand how the program works. I spend time in your child’s classroom every day …

Same Parent interrupting me – Yeah, but my son speaks English every day and he says he’s bored in EAL. So when can he get out?

Me - Maybe YOU should tell ME why in the world you would NOT want your child to have an additional TEACHER in the room providing EXTRA English language support and helping your kid to access the third-grade curriculum? Will you please explain WHY you wouldn’t want your child to learn strategies for building his vocabulary, strengthening his understanding of English grammar and developing his reading comprehension? Help me understand WHY you think learning French or Spanish is so important for a third grader who is still learning the language of instruction at our school???

No, of course I would NEVER say that. But … I admit I do think it. Instead, I usually just take a breath, remind myself that most parents don’t have a degree in language acquisition and suggest that we set up another meeting to chat about that specific child.

I’ve had THAT kind of BTSN many times over the years. Yesterday’s BTSN was NOT one of them! What a relief!

Parents asked important questions about learning English, choosing appropriate books, how to support English learning at home, expectations in the classroom and so on. With heart-warming sincerity, they openly discussed the challenges their children face daily as English learners in an English-medium school.

All teachers play therapist now and then. I hope I was able to reassure parents that their children are in good hands. Many of our teachers, including me, are Third-Culture Kids. We understand and empathize with students living outside their home culture, surrounded by peers of myriad ethnicities.

Our principal, Susan Young, started a tradition of giving teachers Power Rocks at the start of school. A local calligrapher writes inspirational words in English and Sanskrit on the rocks, and we choose the ones that resonate with us.

Last year, I chose “patience.” This year, I chose “appreciation.” Sitting on my classroom desk, the rocks remind me every morning to approach the school day with gentleness; assume children, parents and teachers have the best intentions; and to give even the most stubborn kids opportunities to shine and share what makes them special.

I hope the parents who visited school last night felt a spirit of patience and appreciation.

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Nuts for NUTS

Jangling bangles, swirling skirts, glittering bindis and big smiles set the stage for a gala evening yesterday at Night Under the Stars, an annual fundraiser staged by our school’s PTA. Indian drummers greeted guests on a candle-lit path past a pink-draped tent photo-opp and down to the AES field, where sponsors’ booths ringed the dinner tables and Mughal Empire-themed props set the mood.

As we lingered in the courtyard next to the field, a school employee quickly pushed me away from a dia that threatened to send my lehenga up in flames. The little traditional candles posed a serious fire hazard to those of us dressed in floor-grazing elegance! However, it was hard to focus on fire prevention while gawking at everyone arriving at the party. Just one formally clad mannequin in a store window here can take your breath away; imagine hundreds of people sashaying by in an unimaginable range of silken styles and colors. The men, in general, wore interesting but understated costumes or suits, but the women stole the show. Rhinestone-encrusted tops and full heavy skirts. Glimpses of skin under carefully draped shimmering saris. Bare-backed anarkalis with fitted bodices that flared into golden trim. Dramatic make-up and hair ornaments dripping with jewels. Delicate dupatta scarves tossed over shoulders. We kept telling each other, “You look so beautiful!” because everyone honestly did.

The visual feast served as a great distraction from my lingering cold and laryngitis. We mingled, enjoyed a nice dinner and even got Tony out on the dance floor. Truly a special night.

This is how we got to the party. No, not really.

AES Director Bob Hetzel gets thronged by the ladies.

Tony shunned a turban for his suit, but you know I love to break out the fancy costumes!

That’s our table in the foreground.

It is NOT easy to dance in these clothes.

Prop du jour: cowboy hat, courtesy of Laura Pitale, another AES teacher.

More shots from NUTS.

City Slickers in Udaipur

Tony just left for the Marwari Safari, an Indian take on “City Slickers.” He’ll spend five days at the Krishna Ranch near Udaipur, which is southwest of New Delhi, learning horsemanship and exploring the Arravali mountains on horseback … with 19 high school students. His trip is one of several mini-courses offered this week to students at the American Embassy School in New Delhi. They are so lucky!

Never mind that the last time we went horse-back riding, Tony dropped the reins and let his horse eat grass while I cantered in circles around him.

Tony, another teacher, and the kids will ride to Tiger Lake, rural villages, a wildlife sanctuary and several agricultural areas. He may come home a little saddle-sore, but I bet he’ll have some wonderful stories.

Check out the Krishna Ranch website. It looks amazing!

Discover India Week at AES

Discover India Week, Jan. 27-Feb. 3, was my favorite week so far at the American Embassy School here in New Delhi! Every morning started with dancers and musicians at the school gates. The hallways burst with color as students and teachers dressed in their Indian clothes. Children tried their hand at block-printing, pottery, traditional construction methods and other cultural pursuits. Everything felt so … Indian!

Each grade level focused on a specific aspect of Indian culture across the curriculum. I teach third graders, who explored Indian Folktales and Stories Showing Courage. They learned about India’s visual storytelling tradition with demonstrations by Sharon Lowen, the head of Indian Studies at AES. She visited their classrooms with story scrolls and a wooden box that opened to reveal hinged panels painted with beloved tales of Hindu gods.

Lowen, a renowned expert in three forms of classical Indian dance, also demonstrated storytelling through Odissi dance movements. She brought some of the kids up on stage for a workshop.

Students met puppeteer Anurupa Roy, who taught them how to transfer the nuances of physicality from their own bodies to the puppets on their hands.

Many artisans spent the week at our school, demonstrating their crafts and selling the products. I was most fascinated by this guy, who made “lac” bangles. They are quite expensive, and I never understood why. Now I do! The craftsman makes the bracelets from “lac,” a type of tree resin by warming it over hot coals until it’s pliable. Then he twists and works the resin, using a mold to distribute it evenly. Very interesting!

Other artisans demonstrated glass blowing, kite construction, traditional toy making, weaving, and wooden puppet carving. Here’s a slideshow.

Gond Tribal Artist encounter

A newcomer to India’s art culture, I can only say I love it ALL! Textiles, furniture, paintings, sculpture … every piece I’ve seen bursts with symbolism or cultural nuances that beg for interpretation. With a tradition of visual storytelling, generations of Indians have passed on religious stories, myths, folktales and morality lessons through art. When I heard a visiting artist was sharing his Gond Tribal Art (“Bhiti Chitra” – Wall Art – in Hindi) with elementary school students, I eagerly dashed up two flights of stairs to meet him.

I found Sunil Dhurvey sitting cross-legged on the floor with a painting on a clipboard in his lap and a ink pen in his hand. He looked up and shyly returned my exuberant “Namaste.”
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Having used up my Hindi, I gratefully engaged Kanika Roy, art teaching assistant, and Rupa Samaria, a Delhi artist and substitute teacher, to translate during my interview.

They explained that Sunil and his wife, Santoshi, had traveled for two days by bus and train from their home in Dindori Village, Madhya Pradesh.
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I wondered if Dindori Village was a hotbed of artists, but Sunil said most of the 400 residents – including himself – are farmers. “Sometimes people ask me, ‘Why do you spend so much time on art? Why don’t you go and work in the field?'” he said. His answer? “I love it.”

Sunil informally learned the techniques of Gond Tribal Art from a young age by watching his mother paint the designs on walls and floors of village buildings, especially for festivals, weddings and other celebrations.

According to an article by Venus Vinod Upadhayaya on the LifePositive website,

Originally done with four-coloured mud found in the forest, the Gond tribal paintings were drawn on the walls of the houses and were an integral part of the tribal festivity, rituals, and day-to-day living. … Gonds believe that (the) Narmada (river) was once a woman and was married to the Sonmura river. During the marriage rituals, the turmeric from her body fell down on the earth and created the yellow mud. The black mud was collected from within the tribal village whereas the white had to be fetched from another forest nearby. Both men and women would paint on the walls. The original drawings on the cowdung-smeared walls were scenes from the forest and its creatures, and depictions of traditional dances and tribal deities.

By the age of 12, Sunil said, he was creating his own art. I asked if he would be a mentor to younger aspiring artists, but he shook his head. Kanika elaborated, “Usually in the villages they don’t teach young ones how to paint this type of art. They just watch and they learn. If they are painting on a building, they think about what would go with that type of building. For example, if they are painting the storage building for grain, they might paint birds or mice because those animals are likely to be found there.”

Sunil displayed small paintings on cardstock and larger ones on canvas. He said the Gond Tribal Art style is known for its depictions of stories about nature (especially the Narmada River), mythological characters and gods, and daily life. Rupa pointed to one of his paintings, hanging on the classroom whiteboard, and said, “This is a typical village scene with the women fishing and the men cutting the rock. The rocks are used to create a trap in the river. They catch fish and put them in the baskets.”
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In this photo, Santoshi and Sunil show some of their works. Santoshi painted the ones on the table, and she said they represent the kinds of work she does on village buildings. I wish I had taken a second shot as Sunil really has a lovely smile! Sunil’s mother still paints, and he even brought one of her pieces (but it had already sold by the time I met him).
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I bought these two peacock paintings from Sunil for about $10 each, but the wonderful experience of getting to know the artist before buying his work was priceless.
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Such fun detail!
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If you are in India, speak Hindi and want to see Sunil’s work, give him a call: 0-88894-08539

Indian Catwalk

“Discover India Week” just wrapped up at the American Embassy School, and what an incredible week it was!

My favorite event was the Indian Textile and Fashion Show, a flurry of swirling silks and sequins. With an Indian wedding theme, volunteers took on the roles of family members and guests at the party. I was originally slated to be the bride; however, I was demoted to “sister of the groom” when the organizer discovered we had a real bride in our midst. The fashion show became a lively dress rehearsal for Punam, an elementary school receptionist, and her fiance, Daniel, a first-grade teacher, who will tie the knot in April.

The day before the fashion show, participating ladies were invited to a “mehendi” party in the office of Sharon Lowen, head of Indian Studies at AES. Two young ladies sat on low stools with pillows on their laps to draw henna patterns on our hands. They use small bags, similar to cake decorating tubes, full of a substance the consistency of mud. The ladies finished their designs in about five minutes.

Wet and messy. The table was overflowing with fruit and samosas, but I couldn’t pick them up! Next time, I won’t rush to be first in line.

When the “mehendi” dried, it started flaking off all over my clothes. I carefully draped my backpack over one shoulder, caught an auto-rickshaw home, and put on a pair of old gloves. When it was time to get ready for bed, I brushed off the remaining mud, rubbed on some baby oil (the “mehendi” ladies said to use mustard oil, as if I would just have some in my cupboard), and slept with socks on my hands. This is what it looked like in the morning:

The fashion show gave me a reason to wear my fabulous lehenga, which had been stashed in my closet since Diwali.

Here is a slideshow of the fashion show participants. The bright lights washed out some details, but everyone looks smashing in Indian clothes!

After the “bride” and “groom” made their appearance, dance music filled the gym.

Soon the bleachers emptied as a full-on dance party broke out with children and teachers twirling and shaking to the Hindi tunes. It seemed out of control, but students quickly responded when the assistant principal announced it was time to return to class. Amazing.