Monday, May 20, 2013

International Day

Did you know that there are expats from over 25 different countries living in Suzhou? Even in our school in Chennai, the number of countries represented was astounding! To celebrate this unique and rich diversity, most international schools have an International Day - not only is it really good advertising for the school, but it is also a great opportunity for all of us to literally take a trip around the world in few short hours!

In the American International School Chennai, we did UN Day every year - same concept, different name! Beginning with an assembly in the morning - the children did a Parade of Nations - different nationalities walking in with their flags while their national anthem played in the background. Incredibly moving, guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye! The solemn assembly was followed by - what else? - lunch!! Every country had a booth where they would serve national specialities - the children and then the school staff walked around this prodigious buffet, helping themselves - it was all free of charge, of course! What a wonderful event!

I was quite excited when emails for International Day in Dulwich started going around. Since Manasi has a US passport, I'm on the mailing list for both US and India - however since there are far more Americans than Indians here in Suzhou, I was obviously going to be on the India team! So there we were, about 10 Indian women - well, let me correct that - for some reason, India and Bangladesh were to share a stall, so 8 Indian women, and  2 Bangladeshi women - we had a couple of meetings, collected the money for expenses, kind of assigned tasks, so far so good! Then we hit our first snag - our country rep had to go back for India for a medical emergency! Well, I kind of volunteered to take the lead - I know, it's my first year here, I should have just done the 'wait and watch' - but my national pride bursts forth in the weirdest places - and before I knew it I was writing emails and setting up meetings and what not!

Anyone who has ever tried to organize any event with volunteers know how oddly difficult it is! The leader cannot assign tasks - you have to either wait for people to step up, or else very politely try to convince someone to take responsibility. Everyone has a suggestion to make, a better way to do things - and no matter how farfetched the ideas may be, they have to be given serious consideration. Being in charge does not mean that you get to make decisions - it just means that you just became the agony aunt for the entire group, fielding questions about ingredients that go in a particular recipe, or even the weather forecast on the day of the event! Not to mention the demands - being in charge also means that you're everyone's go-to person to request particularly hard to find stuff which, of course, is absolutely critical! All the success, of course, belongs to the group - the failures if any, as always, are totally the fault of the leader! What a thankless job - why do it then, right? For the sheer thrill of watching things fall into place as planned! Forget the credit - who needs that? - all the frustration is totally worth the sigh of relief at the end of the day for a job well done!

Long story short, I was in charge - and definitely not finding it easy going! Then the Bird Flu scare started - so no poultry could be served! The menu we had planned was really chicken heavy - chicken tikka, chicken kebabs, chicken curry - you name it! So we were back to square one - scrambling to come up with a vegetarian menu which would appeal to the crowds! For unlike UN Day in Chennai, International Day at Dulwich was a charity fundraiser - not only did we have to make the food, we also had to sell it! The final menu that everyone agreed to - paneer frankies, idli-chutney, veg spring rolls, gulab jamun and mint lemonade - quite impressive, even if I say it myself! Besides the food stall, we also had to make a 'country basket' - a basket of local handicrafts and foods, which would be auctioned off - again for charity! We were initially planning to put on a dance for the cultural show, but since our erstwhile leader was also our choreographer, that had to scrapped - although, she did promise that her daughter would perform a solo!

International Day dawned bright and sunny - since it had rained non-stop pretty much the entire week before, that was a relief! Our India/Bangladesh stall was colorfully decorated with flags, posters, and ethnic bedspreads! I had managed to wangle a few 'Incredible India' posters from the Indian consulate in Shanghai, so those went up as well! This year, for the first time, Dulwich College had decided to do a parade - not just for the kids, but for everyone! A Chinese dragon would lead the parade - followed by the countries in alphabetical order! This led to a few (unintentionally) funny emails - a couple of parents were vehemently opposed to marching behind the dragon, apparently because the dragon is a pagan image! Really, people? Get over it - sometimes a dragon is just a dragon, and not a symbol of anything at all! The parade was a bit uneven, and it really should have ended with a finale having everyone on the field at the same time, with all different flags and costumes! That would have been quite the sight! As it was, we walked in at one end, and then just walked across waving our little flags, feeling just a tiny bit silly!

The India contingent!
The rest of the day, was quite literally, a blur! In our booth - selling food, collecting coupons, stamping 'passports' with India and Bangladesh stamps! We had a lot of disappointed customers who came looking for 'curry' - but nonetheless, we sold out pretty quickly! By the time I could leave to take a walk around the other stalls, most of the food was gone! Don't know if it was just too many people this year, or if everyone just had less food! Our sole representative at the cultural show, a little girl of 8, performed an amazing Bollywood number! It would have been so much if we had been able to put on a bigger show! Just like 'curry', Bollywood, too is extremely popular!

Went home after clean up - totally exhausted! It had been a good event - actually, much better than what I was expecting! Lots of lessons learned for next year - and to be honest, I would really like to be country lead for next year, too - and I would most definitely like to head start on a lot of things instead of waiting for next year! For now, I'm just happy that we didn't run into any serious issues, and that we did our bit in contributing to the astounding 200,000RMB raised that day! As for next year, que sera sera...

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