Linda Smittle, TCCS 128
Friday was the last day before the New Year’s holiday four-day weekend. On Thursday a teacher told me to bring a gift for the school’s New Year’s raffle.
“Students and teachers all bring something. It must cost 30 baht (about one dollar). You can do more.”
What could I add to the raffle?
“I can ride my bike to Kham Muang to buy something.” My market town was a 30-minute bike ride from school. Shop owners at the couple-dozen stores could sell me something appropriate.
“Mai bpen rai.” (It’s OK.) Find something at home. Anything.” What do I have at home that others might enjoy to celebrate the beginning of a new year? My baffled look encouraged her to suggest something specific. “You could make a banana cake.”
“OK. Do I wrap it?”
“It’s up to you.”
I could bake a cake or find some no-longer desired treasure to add to the raffle. At home I looked through my stash and decided on a red-white-blue USA patriotic theme. I gathered tokens of America to put in an American flag gift bag: a couple of bandanas, a handful of colorful flag-imprinted pencils, and a book about Texas from the Texas Tourism department. I felt good about my raffle item. But then another PCV posted a picture of a rice cooker she received from her school’s New Year’s white elephant exchange. Oh. Maybe we are having a white elephant gift exchange instead of a raffle. I didn’t want a fellow teacher to be frustrated with a less-than-stellar gift. I threw in a few dozen stars made from ribbons folded around one-baht coins.
This morning as I rode onto the school campus, children were carrying colorfully wrapped packages with fancy bows. They held out their gifts for me to admire. “Heavy” or “light” I declared as I lifted each package. I shook some packages to see if I could tell what was inside. “Kanom? (Candy?)” I asked. “Kanom!” they replied.
They saw my gift bag. “America!” They held the bag and heard the coin-based stars rattling around. “Kanom?” they asked. “No. It’s not candy.” Their eyes widened in surprise.
After the morning assembly, the first, second, and third graders gathered on the sidewalk outside their classrooms. The teachers covered a bulletin board with colorful paper, balloons, and a gold “Happy New Year” banner.
One by one the children brought their wrapped packages to a teacher who attached a sticker with a number to each package. After all the numbered packages were lined up on the tables, a teacher looked at me. “Your package.” She gestured toward the table. Oh. My present was destined to belong to a student. (I was glad I hadn’t made a banana cake.) She attached sticker number “59” on the outside of my flag gift bag. Other teachers added sealed envelopes with money inside; the envelopes received labels 60-64.
Then the party started. We practiced saying “Happy New Year!” We sang Jingle Bells, We Wish You a Merry Christmas, and S-a-n-t-a. We played group games (Bear, Fish, Mosquito, then Bird on a Perch and finally Ninja).
Then students gathered in front of the festive bulletin board for the main event – the gift exchange. As the only American at the school (and probably the only one who didn’t know how the exchange would work), I was given the honor of going first. A teacher showed me a small container with tiny pieces of folded paper. Then she held it up high so I couldn’t see the individual pieces. She nodded her head toward me and then toward the container. I reached my hand up and into the container and turned my head to the side to make sure I didn’t see anything. I pulled out a folded piece of paper. Unfolding it, I showed the paper to the students and read the number in English: “47!” A teacher retrieved the package with the 47 sticker on it and read the name written on the package. The girl stood up, came to the front of the table and handed me the package she had brought. I placed my palms together, bowed and said “Kop khun ka” before taking the package from her. Then she picked a number from the container to identify which package she would receive.
As the structured distribution of packages continued, some students opened their presents. Most were filled with individually wrapped kanoms (candy / sweets). They shared the sweet treats with their friends.
The girl who received the goodies from America was excited when she drew #59. When she opened the gift bag, she and her friends squealed as they pulled out the bandanas. If they were disappointed there were no kanoms, they didn’t show it.
After the final packages were distributed, the students went to lunch – taking their goodies with them to eat as dessert.
As soon as the fourth, fifth, and sixth graders finished eating, they began adding stickered numbers to their New Year’s gifts. The junior high students went to the multipurpose room where they prepared for their gift exchange and New Year’s party. The sizes of the packages increased in relation to the students age. Several students brought stuffed animals to give away.
I’ll know what to expect for next year’s New Year’s gift exchange. I plan to follow the lead of one of the teachers. She brought the same present (a wooden box filled with colored pencils) for each of the three groups of students. And she shared the three packages of kanoms she received with the students.
But perhaps next year they will raffle gifts instead of exchanging kanoms.