Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Son Zeng (The Last Bell)...

The last day of school was May 31st. Now, in all honestly, the kids stopped coming to school about a week before that, but the official last day was a big deal. Just like at home, the day was eagerly anticipated by students and teachers alike.

At every school there is a ceremony on May 31st called Son Zeng. I was told by my counterpart that ours would start at 10 a.m. I should have learned, after almost a year here, that the really means about noon. So, I hung out at school, talking to the teachers and students until the event began.

Like every Azer ceremony, it was filled with speeches – but, as my mom pointed out, I understood a lot more at this one than I did at the first day ceremony. And, even better, I didn't have to give a speech this time! No congratulating anyone on behalf of anything this time. Yay! Instead, I just got to observe. I think that might mean that I am finally viewed as more than the American guest. Maybe even a real teacher. Hmmm. Can always hope, anyway.

The ceremony was LONG, but cool. Each of the 11th form classes paraded out, all decked out in their finery. When they reached the center of the courtyard, they all released white pigeons into the air (does anyone know – are white pigeons doves? One of the English teachers told me that they are, but I'm skeptical.) That was super neat to see. They were all presented with their certificates (essentially diplomas) by the director. As each student came up to receive their certificate, family members would come up and present them with those huge bouquets of fake flowers.

Next came more speeches, then the now graduated 11th formers passed the symbolic key to the school to the 10th formers – the new top class. After that can my absolute favorite part. The 11th form boys paraded around with the little 1st form girls on their shoulders, while the itty-bitty girls rang hand bells. Officially – the last bell ringing. I cannot tell you how absolutely adorable that was. My heart completely melted. My pictures don't do the moment justice.

The ceremony ended – after more speeches – with all of the students dancing. They played loud Azeri music through the speakers (they also did this in between every break of the ceremony) and the students all danced. I love watching Azeri dancing – I am, however, not very good at it. Family members and some of the teachers joined in. No surprise, I guess, I was pulled down to join the dancing. I spent most of my time dancing with my host sister Shams (who just graduated – and will spend next year studying in America! I'm pretty proud of her), until somehow I got sucked into a dance-off with one of the boys. Well, not really a dance-off, more him doing crazy stuff with his feet and me trying to follow. I held my own for awhile, but mostly I looked ridiculous. Let me tell you, this was a BIG hit! Seriously, a huge circle surrounded us, watching. It is all on several videos of the day – both the official school video and a lot of home cameras. Yippee. There is part of me that loves the novelty and celebrity of being Miss Jane, and then there is that other part that would happily hide. Gotta say, the dancing part of my celebrity I kinda loved! It was fun.

Finally, the crowds began to disperse, and I headed home to take a nap. Son Zeng was one of the neatest things I've been to here. Way different from American graduation ceremonies or even Elementary school last days. In a lots of ways, much cooler. Although, there is something to be said ice cream socials and going to the pool. Ahh, well, you can't have everything. Birds, bells, and dancing is pretty awesome.