Thursday, June 17, 2010

Miss Kilimanjaro

While currently writing this, I am sitting on a bench in an Amsterdam train station. I am no longer in Tanzania, but I was unable to share some of my experiences during the last two weeks of my stay, so the next couple posts will be making up for that lost time, as they are still my tales of Africa.

Last weekend, we – a pronoun that now includes a number of old CCS volunteers, some other volunteers I have met during my time in Moshi, and of course our local friends – decided to attend the Miss Kilimanjaro Beauty Pageant that was hosted at a local club called La Liga. For obvious cultural differences between Tanzania and the West, we didn’t really know what to expect from this event, which of course was the draw for us.

Let me set the scene for you a little bit…
La Liga has the slogan of being “the number 1 club in East Africa”, although advertising claims like this often go undisputed in Tanzania. Usually, it is open Thursday through Sunday and functions much like clubs at home, but with way more lasers, smoke and foam pouring over you while you shakey shakey with what is usually a 50-50 mzungu-local ratio. Unlike what we’re used to back home, people don’t show up at the club until around 1:30, and it doesn’t close until about 8 in the morning. It is complete with light up palm trees at the tables, a stage on which we frequently dance that looms over the rest of the light-up dance floor, and paintings of scandalous women on the walls. It’s a great place, and the location which hosted the pageant.

The show took place on a stage outside the club in the stoned “patio” area. It started out in pretty regular fashion. A mix of famous bongo-flava artists and dance performers kicked off the night with performances of their own in front of the ~500 people in attendance. The contestants then came out and performed a dance together. The girls were all gorgeous, many of them quite comparable to what would be seen in a beauty contest back home, only they wore far more clothing and had a little bit more “junk in the trunk”. They introduced each contestant, at which time the girls gave a speech telling the audience and judges their level of education, future ambitions, favourite hobbies, and the designer of their dress. The names they listed for their designer were not that of big name designers, but often they simply said, “I designed and made my dress myself.” The dresses were crazy, some of them complete with ancient Egyptian-esque head wear.

Just when we thought we became comfortable with the idea that the night might not be that different from what we would see at home, we were shown the talent section of the show. Back home, we would expect them to sing, dance etc. However, at the Miss Kilimanjaro Pageant, the first contestant performed a skit, which I can assure you was possibly the worst acted performance I have ever seen. On top of that, the plot was as follows: a woman becomes a prostitute, she has unprotected sex, she contract AIDS, and then she dies. Hello Miss Kilimanjaro. The next ten contestants performed something of similar quality, either lip-syncing a song, acting in an equally painful skit or dancing in a way that is far beneath the regularly incredible Tanzanian ability. One girl, however, did a comedy act that was actually hilarious. She dressed as a man, stuffed a beer belly underneath her shirt, and did a perfect slap-stick style interpretation of a man working in the fields – this was completely out of place and would never happen at any form of pageant elsewhere, but it was easily the best act.

We left the night, bewildered, unsure whether to laugh of be angry that we paid for the tickets. To top it off, the taxi that took us home had engine problems and could not go faster that 20km/h.


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