Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Multicultural Birthday

Misha celebrated both his 5th and 6th birthdays in Saudi Arabia, but the difference between the two is immense. He turned five just two weeks after we arrived in Riyadh, well before we knew anybody here. His party was a family affair – just Mom, Dad, and Sebby as guests – in the hotel where we stayed for the first few weeks. We celebrated with a cake he picked out from the grocery store and some new toys to start him off in his new world.

His 6th birthday this April marked the culmination of a year's-worth of new friendships and life-changing exeriences. He had a school party and a home party. I was thinking that they would both be modest but fun celebrations; obviously I was forgetting that the culture we are in seizes each and every occasion, no matter how small, to have as big of party as possible. I sent 30-some homemade chocolate cupcakes with sprinkles to his kindergarten to share with his morning class, as well as several packs of cookies to distribute to the afternoon group for the day-care session. When I picked Misha up at the end of the day, he exclaimed, "It wasn't just a little party, Mom – it was a REAL party!" He described how his teacher brought her own huge cake for him in addition to the cupcakes I sent. He had to close his eyes before being led into a room decorated for the party, where they sang to him in English and Arabic and showered him with sugar and gifts. We needed a super-size bag to bring all of his presents home – each of the eight teachers he sees throughout the day gave him a gift. And not just a little kleenex-boxed-sized gift. No, we're talking huge, colorfully-wrapped boxes and bulging, sparkly gift bags. He got car sets, a watch, art sets, and enough remote-control cars to fill up a cupboard.

Ready to haul home the presents from school.

We had his home party the following day, since it was a weekend. My simple plan of ordering pizza and having the entire party outdoors at the pool actually worked out amazingly well. He had four of his good friends from the compound plus an American friend, the son of another teacher -- and of course, Sebby (who can now say "birt-day!"). The pool kept everyone happy and active, and the weather was great for swimming, splashing and squirt gun fighting. After swimming came the pizza and cake (topped with a cut-out of Misha the Power Ranger, his number six candle, and outdoor-only sparkler candles), followed by a burst of present-opening. Once again, Misha received a ton of large, flashy presents – more cars, trains, coloring books, airplanes! He had such a ridiculous amount of presents that Josh and I didn't even give him the gifts we picked out for him until the end of the week. He loved our choices - treasures from the little stands and stalls in the old Dira Souq - every bit as much as we knew he would. A collapsing telescope, an old-fashioned minute timer, shiny mini camel figurines, and a treasure box with a secret opening are right up Misha's alley.

As our time in Saudi Arabia comes to an end, we are very happy that Misha was able to have such a positive experience here. Being in a local kindergarten has really helped him build confidence and interact with the culture in a much more meaningful way than most foreigners are able. His multicultural friends on the compound have also been great for him as he explores his expanding world.

Naturally, I took many photos of his party. Unfortunately, our camera's memory card is going to need a little persuading before it relinquishes the precious photos it contains. I'm sure eventually I can find a way to retrieve them, but for now, all I have is the one shot from my iPhone of Misha at school.


Deanna said...

Happy birthday, sweet boy!

Tanya said...

So sweet! Your description of the gifts you got for him makes me happy that you have such a great little boy.