Big Night Out Beauty Pageant

I had precisely six days in my new home before I had to be on the move again.

Six days in which to familiarize myself with my new environs (so that I knew vaguely where to buy loo paper and bread); six days in which to reintroduce dogs to cats and ensure everybody was reasonably well and happy (even dogs seem bemused at cats new found affection for one another) and six days in which to unpack so that some semblance of ‘home’ was achieved before I had to leave again.

Happily the six days also afforded some insight into Outpost’s social life. Unhappily I think I witnessed the annual highlight on the social calendar on day three so presumably have little else to look forward to for the remaining 362 days of the next twelve months.

I attended the annual beauty pageant, the winning local contestant would go forward to the national finals.

I have never attended a beauty show in my life, far less one in Tanzania. And I anticipated the evening with a mixture of ‘oh God, no!’ dread and ‘oh goody! Writing fodder!’glee. My husband exhibited much more of the former and was hoping I would not find the complimentary tickets I thought I had lost in the detritus of unpacking. Unluckily for him, I did and off we went.

The evening was hosted at the local hotel, one time guest house for visiting Kaiser early in the last century. It is pivotal to everything that happens in this tiny place and home to everybody who visits. Including us. When we first came. Its proportions are magnificent. Its décor marginally less so. But that all adds to the undeniable charm of the place, which is supplemented by the flamboyant Pashtun proprietor who claims long-time local genealogy.

The seating was arranged such that those of us with higher price complimentary tickets were seated conspicuously close to the runway and just behind the judges.

‘No bloody sneaking off early, then?’ complained His Nibs.

Already the music was pumping loudly and lots of failed wannabe beauty queens, fatly squeezed into sequined dresses and micro skirts, were parading obviously whilst talking into cell phones. Alongside the runway was a lurid red and gold three piece suite, vast sofa and arm chairs upholstered in faux velvet. I wondered who was going to sit there. Until I realized it constituted first prize, along with 150 quid in cash.

We ordered beers and husband introduced me to the eclectic assortment of people he has met since taking up residence here. (After a mere seven weeks he is painfully know-all about everything from Who’s Who to where to buy loo paper and how to get to the bakery). I met hotel owner’s English (from Lancashire) wife and their beautiful daughter. I met two Indian men who own a profitable transport business. I met several of my husband’s new colleagues (African, Greek, English) and I met a couple of young American volunteers who viewed me – the newcomer – with disdain. I wanted to tell them I had been in Africa for longer than they’ve been alive but feared that’d rather give my age away. And being at a beauty contest one feels compelled to at least feign youth.

After several beers and a lot of very loud music courtesy of a local band (so that I couldn’t hear anything of what my husband’s new friends said so that now they either think I am very, very stupid for nodding dumbly or are delighted because I have agreed to host company Christmas party for 600 employees, their wives, children and mothers-in-law) the show began.

A tall Tanzanian girl, calling herself MC2, stepped onto the stage to introduce us to each of the 11 contestants. She wore impossibly high heels and was – apparently – according to a man who is clearly a regular follower of the country’s beauty pageants, Number Three Runner Up In Last Year’s Nationals. I nodded and made some polite sounds (inaudible above the racket so he probably thinks I am mute) whilst I thought to myself that either last year’s competition wasn’t that stiff or complacency has improved her appetite; she clearly doesn’t ever ask herself – or anybody else – ‘does my bum look big in this?’. Yes honey, it does. Huge. Enormous. Gargantuan.

No matter. She had bags of self confidence and introduced the girls with aplomb. Whilst regarding them smugly – as you’d expect Number Three Runner Up In Last Year’s Nationals to regard mere entrant from small dusty one-horse town in middle of absolutely bloody nowhere. The girls sashayed out onto the runway in assorted gowns, most wore hair extensions so that long straight tresses fell down their backs. One wore a headdress which was about 2 ft tall which I thought a very clever tactic for she was short and quite fat and the extra height afforded by headgear gave illusion of elegance. All of them introduced themselves – in Kiswahili – and in true Miss World style informed the several hundred spectators that they enjoyed reading novels, going to the movies (where? Here? I don’t think so … bunch of fibbers) and wanted to study law and Save The World.

After all 11 had paraded in evening wear, MC2 told us they were going to model Beachwear.

‘Beachwear?’ I hissed to the man next to me, an English man who has lived here for seven years, ‘but this is a Muslim territory’ (where the women peep coyly out of black bui buis).

‘It won’t be beachwear as you and I know it’, he said with authority.

Contestant Number One minced onto the runway in an itsy, bitsy, teeny, weeny yellow polka dot bikini with a scrap of chiffon tied about her hips feigning modesty.

I raised my eyebrows at neighour who admitted, ‘Oh. Perhaps it is. Beachwear as we know it, I mean’.

I was staggered. What will their fathers think I wondered?

The men in the audience guffawed loudly and cheered. Sexism clearly isn’t a sin here.

When the last of the bikini-clad beauties had strutted off the runway in exaggerated catwalk style (putting each foot directly in front of the other as they strode so that their hips swung and they looked like they were making a dash for the loo) we were informed by MC2 that we were to await the judges decisions and whilst this was under discussion we’d be treated to some more live music.

With that a very, very old man wearing a Trilby, a brilliant shiny blue suit and those two tone Black and White minstrel shoes trotted onto the stage clutching a red electric guitar. The applause was tumultuous. He was clearly a local celebrity who had – according to the beauty pageant voyeur – produced a hit in 1978.

Right.

Old Man Rocker took off from a Presley stance in Armstrong tones. He wiggled and twisted and shimmied and showed us that despite his age, he has absolutely no need of either hip or knee replacement. Dozens of members of the audience danced up onto the catwalk to join him and thrust 10,000/- notes into his waistband. Whether because they were fans or wanted to cop a slice of his 15 minute fame by getting their faces on the telly (oh yes, local television station was there too), I have no idea.

By the time his number was up and he had come to a halt, half way to the splits, guitar held aloft, the crowd was on its feet.

The return of the beauties was mildly disappointing after such showmanship but – not to be out done and presumably in a last ditch attempt to secure a top slot – several of them (but not all so this part was clearly optional extra) wriggled back on stage to perform a little dance. MC2 was obviously getting a bit tired of aspirant national beauty queens determined to shove her from top slot (or at least that of national Runner Up No 3) so she was reduced to waving them impatiently offstage when she thought they’d had enough of the lime light.

Alas by then we’d had enough too; it was after midnight and a result looked like a while coming. We crept off home to bed and heard the next day that contestant No 1 (easily the most composed) won. She came from the capital, Dar, apparently. Which would explain her passion for ‘the movies’. Perhaps her punishment for cheating (because she wasn’t a local girl, but perhaps none of them were?) will be the price she’ll have to pay to get the enormous three piece suite home.

A good evening out on the town? Absolutely. Outpost living is going to be more fun than I thought. Albeit it only once a year.

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4 Responses to “Big Night Out Beauty Pageant”

  1. Kathleen Says:

    Oh my…how entertaining! I couldn’t help laughing.

  2. Alive Worldwide Says:

    I love this blog! This is really hilarious! Thanks for brightening my day!

  3. Carolyn Says:

    How exciting! I wonder who will present next year???

  4. The Good Woman Says:

    Brilliant! We bumped into a photo shoot with the Zambian beauty queen finals at a hotel in Lusaka once. Much mincing ensued!
    And I’m sure you’ll find interesting things to do more than once a year – surely there’s a Valentines Ball, and a national day to look forward to as well.

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