Thursday, December 16, 2010

postcard from the middle east: an adventure unfolds



     Over our traveling years my husband and I have had more than the usual number of requests from people jokingly wanting to be taken along with us tucked into our suitcase. On our recent trip we decided to honor such an appeal.
     Stuffed into our luggage headed to Israel and Egypt was a little fellow named Flat Stanley. He made it through TSA security checks just fine. Evidently, he survived the mass of luggage stored in the cargo hold and tumbled down the baggage carousel all in one piece.
     You see a second grade great- nephew from Murrysville, PA had sent us a letter a couple weeks prior to our trip asking if we would keep Flat Stanley, a paper cutout figure, for a short time. Brandon’s class would like to hear from us about what adventures Flat Stanley would have around our area.
      Little did Brandon know that his Flat Stanley would travel away from New York State, and perhaps go the furthest distance of any Flat Stanley sent from his classmates.
      It only made sense that we take Flat Stanley with us neatly folded and placed carefully in a baggie for a smooth voyage. We wanted him to arrive at our destination wrinkle-free just like our clothes. Our job according to the instructions that came with him was to take his picture near famous sights, write some pertinent information for second graders and provide a map of where Stanley visited.
     Flat Stanley has been around since 1964 as a children's book written by Jeff Brown and illustrated by Tomi Ungerer. It is the first in a series of books featuring Stanley Lambchop, a completely flat boy.
     Stanley Lambchop and his younger brother Arthur are given a big bulletin board by their dad for displaying pictures and posters. He hangs it on the wall over Stanley's bed. During the night the board falls from the wall, flattening Stanley in his sleep. He survives and makes the best of his altered state, and soon he is entering locked rooms by sliding under the door, and playing with his younger brother by being used as a kite. Stanley even helps catch some art museum thieves by posing as a painting on the wall. But one special advantage is that Flat Stanley can now visit his friends by being mailed in an envelope. Eventually Arthur, who tires of all the attention Stanley has been getting, reverts Stanley to his proper shape using a bicycle pump.
     Elementary teachers have embraced the Flat Stanley project for years. When my husband smoothed out Flat Stanley in the desert heat posing him for pictures near the pyramids and sphinx, all sorts of tourists yelled out to Stanley greetings to prove what an international celebrity he has become.
     It was when Flat Stanley came around children, though, that he really shined. We were fortunate to be invited to a home of a Cairo family for a meal and some conversation one evening. Of course, Stanley went along in my husband’s pocket waiting to see what new experience he would encounter.
     The family that greeted us was a multi-generational Muslim one. It wasn’t long before friendly Aleyah, a fourth grader at an international, or private school, came over to talk with us. She spoke fluent English along with Arabic, German and French.
     As soon as Flat Stanley came out of my husband’s pocket, a big smile came over Aleyah’s face.
     “Do you know who he is?” my husband asked.
    “I know all about Flat Stanley,” she replied.
     She wanted to hold Stanley and willingly posed for pictures. We learned more about her interests, and when we returned to our hotel room we jotted down some notes to share with the Pennsylvania classroom.
    One morning we had the opportunity to visit a government school, an elementary school provided by tax dollars for all Egyptian children. Of course, Flat Stanley had to wiggle his way into all the photos with the giggling children in two primary classrooms.
     Two obvious differences were evident from American schools. Boys and girls were separated on two sides of the room, and their phonics in English and Arabic were simultaneously pronounced. The second graders could sing songs in English, and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” was their choice to entertain us. Flat Stanley danced to the tune like he had heard it before.
     In the meantime with daily Flat Stanley pictures being sent via our cell phone to Brandon, we discovered that he was so excited that he was writing his own Flat Stanley book.
     When it was time to depart to the United States, we had to consider how we would carry Stanley back, because by then he had become a special member of the trip. After some thought it was decided that Stanley would fly back in my husband’s suitcase mummified. He was rolled up tightly and carefully placed into a small, decorated Egyptian sarcophagus for preservation.
      Flat Stanley will be returned to Brandon via the U.S. Mail. When his classmates and him unroll the wee little guy, we wonder what Stanley will say about his marvelous tagalong adventure in the Middle East.