Sunday, December 4, 2011

night out with Namibian beauty queens

It’s midnight. We’re driving in A’s car through Katutura blasting an old Daft Punk album. I am totally stone cold sober. We reckon that this is probably the latest on a Friday night that we’ve gone without a beer. We’re stopping off at a liquor shop in Katutura. These liquor shops are nothing like the LCBO or the SAQ. They are not-so-sturdy-looking tin shacks on the side of the road with impressively-sturdy-looking bars, behind which the owner will sell you bottles of whatever you want, as long as you speak some language that is not English. We get word that the police are coming to shut the shop down so we’re in a hurry to pick up our big bottles of Windhoek lagers and Savanna dry. There is much confusion because I speak English. Pinehas takes over because I am just not helping. Then we head off to the next party....

Katutura State Hospital grounds

Our evening started off at the Katutura State Hospital, which seems like an odd place to hold a beauty pageant, but since it was being run by the Ministry of Health and Social Services, why not? Certainly the whole theme seemed to be health-oriented. There were free condoms everywhere. Not just on the seats in the audience, but all along the catwalk and the stage, as though it was part of a strange and elaborate decoration scheme. One of the patrons from a cancer charity gave a speech at the beginning of the night, warning about all the things that could give you cancer, which is, basically, almost everything. It was going to be a health-conscious night.

The opening number was a dance sequence involving all of the contestants, set to a dance version of the Lord’s Prayer. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before, but Namibia is a deeply religious country. I’m cool with this. However, it was a bit jarring to see people rocking out to the Lord’s Prayer on a stage covered with condoms.

I was at the pageant to support my friend Saima, who was one of the beauty pageant contestants. The event was being directed in part by T, my cardboard-girl-stealing-goat-slaughtering friend, who had somehow double-booked himself at his own events and was going back and forth between the pageant and the housewarming party he was also throwing at his house. That in itself was pretty impressive

There were several rounds, including casual wear, evening wear, and questions from the judges. My favourite round though, was the traditional wear one. I don’t get to see my Namibian friends in traditional wear very often, because they normally wear street clothes, just like the way I don’t go around wearing a hanbok but wear jeggings instead. So it was kind of cool to see young people dressed up in the outfits of their ancestors. It helped me appreciate all the different social groups within Namibia.

Saima, in her traditional Oshiwambo dress

traditional Herero style - modelled after Victorian fashion at the turn of the last century. Basically some German missionaries convinced Herero women to cover themselves up with huge dresses - the bigger, the better.

so, like, I'm pretty sure this guy is wearing construction pants. Are these traditional?

In between the rounds, there was entertainment from local acts, including an amazing male kwaito dancer, a fantastic hiphop troupe that really know how to whip their hair, an R&B singer who assured us that he loves all sexy ladies, even Canadians, and a group of adorable little girls doing interpretive dance to “Open the Eyes Of My Heart, Lord.” I’m not a fan of Christian rock at all, but those kids were cute.

I wasn’t a huge fan of the emcee, who kept repeating “I won’t waste your time”, but would do precisely that, just to build up the suspense before announcing the next round, and the final winners. It was nearing midnight and my sober patience was wearing thin. At one point while he stalled before announcing the runner-ups, I got fed up and wandered to the concession stand to grab a Fanta, some maize snacks, and a boerewors sausage freshly cooked on the braai. When I finished and got back to my seat, the emcee still hadn’t managed to announce the winner yet.

When he finally let it slip out that Miss Shikomba had won the beauty pageant, I was caught off guard because I had stopped listening. Neverthless, I was happy for Saima.

there she goes

Claudia and Dean wanted to go to a shebeen, so they and Allison and Julia left without me. I wasn't feeling very touristy and wanted to go out with friends my own age instead, so I jumped into A’s car and we headed over to crash Thaddeus’ after party with the beauty queen.

I got a lot of curious attention at the party, being the only non-black girl there, and more importantly, probably the only Korean in the entire country. As soon as I arrived, a girl ran to me and said something to me I didn’t catch.

“Huh?” I said
“I’m speaking your language. Don’t you speak your own language?” she asked.
“My language is English,” I answered. “And some French. I’m Canadian.”
“But don’t you speak a little of your own language?”
“Seriously, I’m not Chinese…”
“But not even a little?”

I actually get that a lot.

T had just moved into his apartment, but I was pretty sure he was going to get kicked out, with the way everyone was stomping their feet and moving to the music. Namibians love to dance, and they can dance in a way that puts Canadians to shame. It does constantly put me to shame. I'd be standing up against a wall, enjoying people's moves, and then inevitably someone would pull me in, "Gloria, won't you come dance with us?" and then I'd do my little shuffle-hop, and everyone would laugh, and then I would back to the wall until I felt that I've had enough beer to dance better.

Pinehas, surrounded by what our R&B singer would describe as "sexy ladies"

eventually I wandered into the kitchen where Saima was feeding everyone meat with a knife. What I really appreciate about Namibian parties is the way they feed their guests a real meal, even if it's midnight. I'm not talking the bag of chips and peanuts that Canadian frat boys will leave out on the counter at their parties. We're talking meals, stews, curries, rice, punch, big chunks of meat. I think I'm going to go broke if I ever throw my own party.

what a beauty queen: Saima wields a knife like the way she wields power and beauty

Suddenly it was 3AM and T could no longer avoid the fact that he was going to get evicted if we partied any longer. So we were hustled out the door. But I was nowhere near ready for bed. So we went club hopping downtown.

Club Ibiza was like a strange dream, or a scene from the next Matrix movie. We were lead down a long dark corridor which suddenly drops you into a big sterile white empty room. Everything is white, including the floor, the walls, and the ceiling. The music is pumped so loud you have to scream to be heard...and yet it was pretty much empty. We danced for a bit anyway. Sometimes it's nice to dance when no one's looking, especially if you dance the way I do.

Eventually, we made our way to Chez Ntemba, where we ran into Sean and his friends, which just goes to show that I have a special talent for finding out where the gay men are at, in any given city. More dancing.

You know, I used to hang out at my friend Jameel's house in Toronto, and we used to say there was a time warp at his place where 1AM would suddenly turn into 4AM. That exists here. It doesn't help that there doesn't seem to be a closing time like the way we have in Canada - they just keep pumping out the old school hiphop and serving drinks all night and all morning. nobody kicks you out. So all of a sudden, in the middle of dancing, I heard the deejay announce "ARE YOU READY FOR 6AM?"

what?? okay, time to go home and watch the sun rise.

sign on Thaddeus' fridge