8 March: Happy Women’s Day!

flowers-by-dana

Children have been bringing in lavish flowers, chocolates, perfumes, and presents for their teachers over the last two days at Bilim-Tilim* school, and today we have the day off work. The Soviet holiday to honor women’s domestic roles, Vosmovo Marta (8 March) is still well-loved here, and outshines the respect given to men on Victory Day in May.

So: at morning assembly yesterday, we listened to multiple renditions of love songs from our male colleagues, who grouped themselves into teams called “Aston Villa”, “the Stars”, and “Womanizer.”

For women’s day (?!), the guys rated the women teachers in an impromptu beauty contest: tallest girl, longest hair, highest heels. Nine girls were brought to the stage, although one striking TA should have swept most of the categories with her outstanding self. Russian children recited elaborate poems to mothers, while the little English children sang a short Russian rhyme to a baby babuskha with a red scarf draped over her head.

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In the morning, my assistant brought in heavy coral-stone earrings for me, and gave me a big hug. “May you find your better half!”

And others complimented me on the dress and heels. “You should wear a dress everyday!”

“I only have one,” I protested.

“Buy some more,” a tall girl with dark hair looked down approvingly.

“and Happy Patriarchy Day!” our gay teacher snickers, under his breath.

Boys-giving-flowers

For our afternoon celebration, some fifteen guys gave yellow, orange, or red tulips to each of sixty ladies. The catering staff served meat pastries, fruit kebabs, and a ‘cake’ with whipped cream and jam filling. They held a quiz contest for married couples (one couldn’t remember her husband’s university), and paired single women with masked men playing famous movie and sports stars. A video montage showed each man at work–sitting at his computer, sorting his desk, at the photocopier, walking down the hall–crooning a love song to the ladies. Rick* stood up with two cups of wine and gave a toast/roast to women, men, and alcohol, as everyone sipped wine and orange juice, chatted and laughed. A senior British visitor stood at the back of the hall, nose in his Blackberry.

“This is going up on my wall!” Helene* said eagerly of the laminated picture of David Beckham, curled up in her hand as she ran to pick up her flowers and chocolates.

Beautiful-Ladies-at-Our-Work

At home, I watched my housemate unpack her gifts from students: expensive European perfumes, glass fruit dish, specialized dinnerware, luxury cosmetics, a sugar-glazed cake, a dozen pink roses, live snapdragons, and four or five other bouquets, with numerous collections of chocolates.

And I savored a red tulip and little brooch, thrilled that a girl had slipped into the library to hand my assistant and I each a piece of jewelry. You may not notice the lessons your child’s librarian gives, but we love the little gifts as much as anyone else!

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