This has to be one of the more interesting cultural experiences we have had so far. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s independence our village hosted a beauty contest for women born in 1966. One of the women who works with Teresa was entered. Everybody at work said they were going and that Teresa should attend. So we decided to go. None of them showed.
Saturday night and it was supposed to start at 7:00 and so we were told to be there by about 8. Of course it was dark but we set out walking the 2 kilometers to the community hall with our head lamps, not sure if we should be wearing them or not. It would help you see the rocks and sand that you would trip over otherwise but it also marks you as a foreigner and kind of points out the target in case somebody decides to do a mugging, which is not uncommon. We have only been out after dark a few times and usually don’t have to walk very far. This time we did a get a ride about half way there and then ended up walking with 3 young women who were also going. It was 20 pula to get in and they didn’t have that much so we had to leave them at the door. However, they did get in a little later so that was good as we were feeling guilty that we just didn’t pay for them but we really try not to come off as rich Americans even though we kind of are although we don’t generally live like it. When we entered we were escorted to the head table which was empty and on the stage slightly above everybody else for absolutely no reason other than we are white and guests in their village. We wondered if other white people (there are several that live in Gabane) would have been shown to the head table if they had been there. We do have a hunch that we are probably better known to the HCNs (host country nationals) than most of the other foreigners that live here even though some of them have been here for years. The people at head tables get water and a little snack and that was really appreciated as we had not brought any and had not planned on being there all night. Below is the view from the head table for those of you who have never had this perspective 🙂
Anyway it started about 9:00 and there were 15 women entered all the age of 50, the same as Botswana. There were also 3 men who entered the arena with them and we still are not sure exactly what their role was. There were also two women who escorted the groups of women in their strolls around the arena. First they all went then they went three at a time with their escort, kind of shuffling/dancing to a rhythm around the arena smiling and waving to the crowd. I think they did this three different times, very slowly. They then changed into traditional wear (note the blanket) and demonstrated a traditional act such as sorting/cleaning grain, pounding grain or meat, cleaning with the traditional broom used here and several other acts. The men were also escorted through each of these except the traditional one. Two of the men never cracked a smile and we think the third male may have been the escort, not sure, he did smile a bit.
There was a brief entertainment interlude for a polka dancing exhibition.
They did another presentation all together and then moved into the evening gown portion and each of the groups did this one and then all together or maybe the altogether was before or maybe they did it both before and after.
Then the poet came out flanked by two “friends” who stood with hands on hips glaring. The poet seemed to be doing a gangsta rap routine but not being able to understand what he was saying, we can only guess. (no pictures of this)
By this time it was approaching midnight and we were getting concerned because we did have our 2k walk home to do yet. But they called out five women and we assumed that this was fifth to first place finishers but no so lucky. These were the five finalists and they were about to each draw a question and then talk about whatever it was about. You do have to remember that all of this was in Setswana and we had no idea what was said throughout the evening. The mike distorted the sound so badly that we probably would not have understood if it had been in American English. By this time it was almost 12:30 and we decided to leave, awkward to say the least, since we were at the head table on the stage in full view of everyone. But we did- making polite goodbyes to the apparent hosts and stopping to have our picture taken with the organizers. We then walked home, getting there about 1 am. It was a beautiful evening so we declined the ride offer from one of our regular taxi drivers when we saw the open bottle of beer in his passenger’s lap.
We do have to say that the crowd was wonderful, screaming and clapping and cheering for all the contestants, some more than others but everyone was included. The smiles and pride that was evident in all of the contestants and the fact that they were 50 and, some rather traditionally built, made it by far the most worthwhile beauty contest we have ever witnessed, and certainly the longest. (the person from Teresa’s work is second from right as you look at the picture- she is the short one.She is also the one sweeping above.We also apologize that one of the 15 is not visible)