Christmas Part 2: Planning (or lack thereof)

25 Dec 2006 04:44 pm

About a week before the party, nothing had been done. Dennis had briefly mentioned all the girl volunteers getting together and working out what all we needed in terms of gifts. A bunch of Canadian folks got together and donated a TON of shoes but we needed to work out what sizes all the kids were. And someone had donated about 10 little backpacks but we needed to figure out how many more we needed. Simple, right? Well, no one ever got together.

So on Sunday before the parties that were scheduled for that Friday, we were all clueless as to what we were going to do… decorations, food, activities, gifts. So I took the initiative, sat down alone (save for the company of Gnarls Barkley) and came up with as many ideas as possible.
My thoughts were these: organize the room into a circle of stations. There would be food stations, gifts stations, and art stations interspersed around the room. The kids would come in at 10, as we’d told them that´s when the parties were to start, and begin at the Candy Tree. Essentially, this would be our little 15 dollar Christmas tree decorated with candy and gift bags for each kid. When they entered, they could pick their bag of the tree along with some candy then move around the room to the other stations. At the end, we´d all sit around the stripped Candy Tree and read Christmas stories and sing songs until we gave out the big gifts of backpacks, shoes, etc.

The stations around the room would include a few games of Twister, an art station to color Christmas ornaments for the tree, a few food stations to get Christmas bread (Paneton) and chocolate, one to get sandwiches, and another to get drinks. We even thought of having a piñata which scared the poo out of me thinking about some of our more rambunctious kids running around blind folded swinging a stick. And Dennis had this idea for an art activity called Ojos de Dios or Eyes of God where you wrap yarn around crossed popcicle sticks to make colorful squares. A great idea, right?

Well, I pitched the ideas to the other people in the house and out floweth the suggestions. First of all, let´s not have stations as too much organization will lead to frustration and probably failure. Good point… leave it to Anna to over-organize even after having seen through the photo project that any attempt at organization doesn’t work with these kids! So instead, we´ll all do each activity together. Yes… good idea. And about that Candy tree, no way. The kids will gripe about who got what candy and someone will take another person’s bag. Better to just hang up the bags or put them under the tree and give them out to each kid individually at the beginning. And as for sitting around the tree singing songs and reading stories… let’s not be silly. The kids won’t be able to stand sitting there looking at their gifts. The songs will turn to shouts of impatience and the stories will be ignored. Let’s just call names out and let everyone clap for each kid as they collect their gifts. We unanimously agreed the piñata was a horrible idea from the beginning. And, finally, we all liked the idea of giving the kids their gifts then sending them home so they could be overly excited OUTSIDE the classroom! So there it was… Now the hard part.

We had about 45 pairs of shoes and, thankfully, Jos had managed to collect most of the kids’ shoe sizes either by tracing their foot on paper or asking their numerical size. So,while everyone was out enjoying their Sunday afternoon, I was in the living room comparing shoes and putting them in size order. When that was done, I compared the shoes to the traced outlines and found about 10 of the 28 kids a fitting pair both in size and fashion. But the trouble with the numerical sizes was that they were in Latin American numbers (ie 34, 37, 42) and all the Canadian shoes were in North American sizes (ie 3, 7, 10M). I did the best I could comparing the few that had a traced foot and a numerical number. Another 2 hours later, I had about 20 of the 28 a good match but we didn´t have info for some kids and others simply didn´t have a shoe in their size. Uh oh… T minus 5 days.

On Monday, I wrote out a list of all the things we needed from foods to art supplies to other materials and we elected Jos and Dennis to skip work on Tuesday to go to China Town to find what they could. I was thankful I didn´t have to go as I was incredibly busy with the photo project. See, we´d promised each kid that they could have two of their photos, which meant I had to somehow take anywhere from 100 to 300 photos to each school, let the kids pick them, then have selected ones from over 25 rolls reprinted. If it sounds like a mess, mutliply it times about 55 and that’s how many hours it took me to do it all, even with Andy helping on occasion. And then we decided to give each of the teachers an album of our favorites and the ones that the kids picked out. I should have started much earlier on the Minas and Villa el Salvador photos but couldn´t have done much with Nazareno as we´d only started the project there the week before… Shall I tell you the solution?

Andy and I went through the photos from each school and picked about half (ie the best ones) to offer as options that the kids could have. We stuffed them in little photo albums, put sticker labels on each page along with the name of the photographer, and then took the albums to their corresponding school. The kids could then select two photos by writing their names on the sticker label on that page. Then, I searched through all the negatives and made lists of each photo I needed to copy and placed the negatives in individual envelopes with their lists.
Monday through Wednesday, I went to each school doing this, having the prints developed as quickly there after as possible. The Kodak store, who charges 20 centimos more per picture did an amazingly wonderful job. The other store, San Luis, who has always been known for its inability to organize anything, did a terribly subpar job that left me in their store trying to convince them that a black line down the side of their pictures was not acceptable quality. That’s quite a long story, but I got what I wanted… another indication that my Spanish has improved (whew).

Once printed, I had to compare the names in the photo albums with the prints and put the two selected pictures from each kid into the envelope with their name. And, because we decided to give the photos out in the gift bags, I was in charge of picking out toys for each kid and stuffing 28 gift bags with the photos and smaller of all the lovely gifts Mom and the Women´s Club sent. That adds another 6 hours of work.

All this to say, that is why I was glad Jos and Dennis went to buy the supplies on Tuesday rather than me. This also put them in full charge of the backpack and shoes issue where they had to find out extra shoes sizes and buy the shoes of sizes we didn’t have. They did a great job with it, even though they forgot to take the f$%&ing list it took me an hour to make.

T minus 2 days…I had asked for a meeting with the teachers to be held on Wednesday after school so they would know what would happen at the parties and to get their suggestions. After all, because they are members of this culture, they would know exactly what the kids would be expecting, such as Paneton (the Christmas bread) and chocolate, and because they’re teachers, they’d know what all the kids could handle… On Wednesday morning, after I’d already told most of the teachers and volunteers about the meeting, Dennis decided to cancel it. I rather forcefully disagreed and, in the end, Dennis realized the teachers might actually want to help organize and divvy up the gifts which would also lighten our load. So it was on… thank God… and the meeting went well with many suggestions and lots and LOTS of help afterward. Essentially, they labeled a backpack for each child then stuffed a pair of shoes and a doll or a ball into each one. It doesn’t sound like too much work but it took 7 people about 3 hours to do!

Then that afternoon, they realized they didn’t have all the shoes. So Thursday, T minus 1 day til showtime, Jos and I took a day off from school to go back to China Town to buy the rest. We also went to the grocery store to buy all the more perishable items we would need for the sandwiches, drinks, gift bags, etc. This turned out to be a blessing as I had a bit of extra time to work on the albums for the teachers.

On Thursday night, we prepared as much as we could and went to bed with crossed fingers. It had been a hellishly long week. I was tired as I hadn´t slept more than 4 hours each night with all the preparation for the photo project. On top of it, Michael would be flying in at midnight after the party, so there wouldn’t be any time to catch up on sleep before the party on Saturday and the beginning of our two-week long journey around the continent.

So, Friday would be a whirlwind but we were all (except for Sean) anticipating a good time… The worst was over.


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