Friday, September 25, 2009

"Dance like an Egyptian"

One of my 11th graders -- notice the quarters in her ears as well as the big earrings

Dance Like an Egyptian

Of course life as an English teacher in Kwajalein Atoll is not all serious. This past Friday was the welcome party, a day of games and contests between the 4 grades that lasted almost until sundown. The freshmen wore blue T-shirts, the sophomores red, the juniors white, and the seniors black. Each class sent two contestants to each of the games. There were sprint races, including one in which students had to stop, read a note with the name of a teacher, pick up the specified teacher, and run with him or her to the finish line. (Luckily I was spared that one.) There was a contest in which students ran, then sat down and gobbled 2 Marshallese cake-like donuts, swallowed, and finished the race. Another race was similar, except you had to gulp down a can of Coke in the middle. One game involved kicking a soccer ball to the finish line with a giant paper cone on the face, with only the tiniest hole at the end of the cone to see through. (Some students lost track of their balls for several minutes, to the hilarity of the rest of the students. Not much field of vision at the end of the paper cone.) A dance contest, in which the dancers froze when the music stopped and were eliminated if they twitched, ended in a tie between one young woman and a young man, both of whom were terrific at instantly stopping their really cool dance moves. Another contest involved a pan of flour that students raced to, then blew away completely before finishing the race. Naturally, most of the flour blew on the contestants’ faces. There were the traditional raw egg toss and ever-popular battle of muscles in tug-of-war. And also musical chairs.

            Of course the best part of musical chairs was watching the superb moves to the music in between diving for the chairs. First the girls competed, then the boys, then the female faculty. Decision time: shall I be the professional teacher self or the wild and crazy self? (Not all of you readers have seen the latter.) I figured this was the moment for silliness, hoping acting the royal fool might buy me some goodwill with my students. As they say, “play it big or go home.” So I hammed it up to the max. I did the “dance like an Egyptian” move, a few overhead claps to the beat, with a little John Travolta and a touch of hokey-pokey. The kids went wild – who knew their new ribelle English teacher had such an outrageous side?

            One of the students’ journals the next school day read, “The most fun at the welcome party was about Ms. Marci’s musical chair good dance. Because I didn’t know Ms. Marci know how to dance because she is so old and I think she doesn’t know how to dance, so that’s what’s so funny. I never seen old women do good dance.”

The next afternoon a little girl, maybe 4-5 years old, called out “hey ribelle!” (This Marshallese word for “foreigner” is a common greeting from the children.) I smiled at her, and she responded with her best “dance like an Egyptian” imitation. Either news travels fast on the “coconut wireless,” complete with gestures, or perhaps there were more neighborhood kids around than I realized. Either way, that appears to be my trademark now, for better or worse!


  1. Oh my gosh, what a funny post. I laughed outloud!

  2. I love this story! I can picture you wowing 'em with your moves, little did they know you were the proud mother of a professional dancer! They are lucky to have you, I'm so glad you're liking it.