A few weeks ago, the after school care team at the centre asked me to be a judge for a cultural competition between our children and children from an OVC drop in centre in Nkowankowa. I agreed, and was looking forward to the event. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into, but I love the Xitsonga cultural dances and singing, so I knew it was going to be a good idea. When my supervisor told me she would borrow a Xibelani skirt for me to wear, I knew this was going to be one of those utterly Peace Corps days-awkward and amazing at the same time.
On Friday, I arrived at the centre to the female staff members wearing brightly colored minchekas and xibelani skirts, with beads, headbands, and head wraps galore. One of the guys came up and asked why I wasn’t dressed in something from my culture. Considering I was wearing a dress I bought at Target, I told him I was, and he laughed.
The children from the other drop in centre arrived around 10am, surprisingly on time, and the event started shortly after. In theory, all the dancing and singing would have been done outside, as there were well over 100 children, plus 15-20 staff members and random parents, and the only room available to us was a room that was maybe 20ftx50ft. However, it was scorchingly hot, as there is almost no shade at the centre. So we all crammed into the room, leaving a small space for dancing, and a DJ area, complete with a speaker that was about as tall as I was.
The two groups took turns dancing (Kwaito, Xibelani, and some other dances), singing, reciting poetry in English and Xitsonga, doing role plays (dramas), and eventually playing football (soccer). In between each “act”, our DJ would crank up the house music and random people would get up and dance-kids, staff, grannies….It was hilarious to watch little old ladies shaking it for all they were worth.
Towards midafternoon, the heat reached a torturous point, and a hot breeze picked up, like a big hairdryer in the sky. All the kids received food, and the staff members were treated as well. As a guest of honor, I was asked to sit in the office where the other drop in centre kids and staff were eating. The room was probably 10ftx15ft, and several adults plus 15 or so kids where in there. By the time I arrived, the room was full to bursting, so I hovered in the doorway and ate my plate of white rice, baked beans, and ketchup. Yes, ketchup. There’s always something unique to eat.
Despite the heat and crowded conditions, I had a blast. Some of these kids are incredible dancers and singers, and possess and immense amount of talent. I enjoyed seeing them take pride in their culture, and have a lot of fun while doing so. I took far too many pictures, but I’ve posted a few for you to enjoy.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I was nursing a slight cold, and the heat was zapping any energy I had left, so I didn’t watch the football game. I found out at the very end of the day that there was actually no competition, as we didn’t have any truly unbiased judge. I was happy to find that out, as I hadn’t been judging anything all day!