The new school year started with a pop yesterday. Lined up at attention on the basketball court, the new 10th graders were welcomed with an opening ceremony. By my count, only one student fainted and needed to be carried off to recover.
After a speech by the principal, a big bunch of balloons was sent skyward. Amusingly, the balloons got caught on one of the tall trees in the courtyard, and proceeded to pop in succession during the group prayer. I just pretended it was an artillery salute.
Of course we didn’t want to leave out the veteran students. Their ceremony took place a little later in the morning and was followed by halalbihalal, a ritual during which participants line up, shake hands and, in the spirit of Ramadan, ask for forgiveness for any misdeeds or sins they may have committed.
During the faculty and family halalbihalal a week ago, the most important people in the room—the principal and his guests—lined up first. Everyone else formed a separate line, which moved and passed by the principal. As each person reached the end of the principal’s line, they joined it themselves. This continued until every single person had greeted every other person in the room.
Yesterday’s teacher / student halalbihalal
differed in several ways. First, to save time, female teachers only greeted female students and male teachers only greeted male students. I say greeted, because ‘shook hands’ wouldn’t be quite accurate.
A quick aside
Students are typically expected to salim teachers (and anyone older than them). Young people take their elder’s hand and raise it to their own face, typically either the nose, cheek or forehead. I usually avoid saliming my students, instead going for a fist bump, but I didn’t want to confuse anyone or break the rhythm, so this time, I played along.
The salim is something that has grown on me over time. When I meet new children for the first time, I let them salim me. Parents encourage it essentially from day one. Adults even go through the motion with infants. As soon as older babies understand the word, even before they can really speak, they’re expected to do it when prompted. They don’t stop saliming when they turn 18 either. They continue to salim their parents and other older family members, and potentially even family friends and former teachers. I’ve even seen a 50-year-old salim an 80-year-old.
Back to school
While this was going on, several male students and teachers sang an Islamic verse in Arabic. When everyone had finished, upperclassmen went back to leading the orientation for the 10th graders and teachers went about their business.
Today was much quieter. For the 10th and 12th graders, it involved marching practice. The 11th graders stayed home, but it’s their turn tomorrow. Classes are scheduled to begin on Thursday, and I’m looking forward to finally meeting the new students and implementing a few new ideas with my colleagues. By then, I should have gotten feedback from all of them about my schedule. Fits and starts, but starts all the same.