Monday, May 15, 2006

The high school talent show is not an institution that one associates with Sub-Saharan Africa. Mask dances, diviner initiations, chicken sacrifices and the like are all everyday business here, but a talent show is what’s really exotic. So, in the true spirit of scientific inquiry harnessed to the desperate spirit of major boredom on a Saturday night with seven kids in tow, we went off to the high school talent show over at the ISO. (That’s the International School of Ouagadougou, BTW. The one that is near my house, but much too expensive for my kids to attend.)
It had been a busy day since the early morning. The annual ISO Yard sale had been held that morning and I was busy from
6:30 am until noon, finding new homes for all of our old junk. The battered Lion King bike helmet that is “too humiliating” went on to a better place. The partially-used tube of fake-Avon skin cream that I hated even sold! True! Somebody bought that! 40 cents! The silver high-heeled sandals I wore twice went to a masochistic Burkinabé lady for a dollar. Life is too short to wear uncomfortable shoes.
Suffice it to say, it was a busy morning and a good time was had by all.
But by later that day, I had somehow accumulated 7 children at my house. They were no trouble at all- they all played while I did some scrapbooking (my not so secret vice). But they were SO good that I kind of forgot about them until it was time to eat dinner and get over to the show. I desperately rummaged for leftovers and threw them into the microwave.
It was a white starch-themed meal that lost me any credibility I have built up in the good-mom department since the horrifying incident last month (see blog of April 20).
The kids ate in about 10 minutes. Mashed potatoes and rice go down fast.
Then, I sprayed a generous mist of Deep Woods Off for Sportsmen over everybody and off we went. We were at the school in five minutes. It took the show a long while to get started, though, and we sat outside in the dark for quite a spell.
When it finally got going, it was lots of fun. Perhaps lacking in variety, but we aren’t too demanding in the entertainment department around here. No juggling, magic tricks or accordeon-playing. You could divide the performers into two main groups: girls singing along to a Desiny’s Child-type song and kids dancing in a Michael Jackson-heyday manner. The most fun were the Destiny’s Child wannabes. One person in each group gets to be the “Beyoncé” . How do they determine this, I wondered. Obviously not by singing ability, as far as my ears could tell. Do they draw straws for the Beyoncé spot? Arm wrestle? I couldn’t figure it out.
Some of the dancing was actually really excellent. Most tended to a hip-hop style, though one group of four girls did an African dance-club style routine. That was my favorite.
At the intermission, they announced that a “Dance Battle” would be held after the main part of the talent competition. The DJ would put on some music and the public would vote for their favorites.
"You take dance lessons and you're a great dancer, Alexa. You should do it." I said to my youngest.
"I don't know....." She gave me a sort of surprised, pained and nervous look. Gee.
"Well, don't do it if it makes you too nervous, Sweetie. It's probably just for big kids, anyway." I told her
Just as the big contest was about to begin, I looked around and said, "Hey Mal, where's Ally?"
"Well, she went to be in the dance contest. " Mallory said this very matter-of-factly.
I was somewhat more surprised.
Maybe the "big kids" comment had needled, rather than soothed her.
I ran over to where a large group of middle-school and high-school age kids were milling around. They’d been divided into age groups andat the far right I spotted Alexa, hanging out with a group of three other young girls. One was older-maybe 10 or so, but the other two looked to be about 8, like Alexa.
“Wow! That’s great Alexa! I know you’ll do a great job!” I tried to seem encouraging, and supportive and at the same time matter-of-fact. Not an easy mix, when I was kind of just reeling from shock.
She looked like she was having fun with the other girls, so I went back to my seat like a good, non-hovering mom.
They started with the oldest kids. There were five of them and they were all really good. Voting was done in the time-honored manner of the host putting his hand over the head of the contestant. Audience screams, howls and applause decide the winner. Each of the next two groups went through the process. Then the little girls came out, Alexa looking very thin and pale. The music came on and for a minute, I didn’t think she was going to move at all. But then she went right into her dance routine from her hip-hop class. She looked GOOD! She was nervous, I could tell, but she kept at it. Her on the floor move, when she sweeps her leg around in circles got everyone really applauding.
Despite the fact that she doesn’t even go to that school (thus lacks that home team advantage) she won!! Her face just lit up when she heard everyone shouting for her! She went offstage and was only there a moment when they announced the FINALS! Yes, that had been the preliminaries. Now all the winners were supposed to have a dance-off. Poor Alexa. There she was, all 45 pounds of her, right next to the 6 foot tall, 18 year old boy. The other three contestants weren’t that tall, but all much bigger than Alexa. And much more experienced dancers. She looked nervous, but game. The music started and all the dancers brought out their best moves. Alexa tried, but nearly got trod on by one girl. Then a boy smashed into her. All this despite the fact that she was at the back of the stage, just trying to keep out of the way. Finally, the emcee brought Alexa to the front of the stage and told the others to be more careful. But there was Alexa now. All alone, front and center. She froze. Then she rallied and did a backbend. Ok. Let’s just say it was a little uneven from that point on. But the music soon stopped.
The hand went over her head. There was much wild applause and yelling. (I will admit to having a slightly sore throat the next day.) She was so cute ! But she was up against the best dancers in the school and these older kids were really excellent. It was close, but a 15 year old girl won.
I ran around to the side of the stage. Alexa was there, putting on her sandals and weeping piteously. She had been really determined to win the whole contest and was miserable.
“But you won against the kids of your own age! That’s great! I think it’s so amazing that you did the contest at all. You are so brave and so incredible! I am really proud of you and you should be proud, too!” I said lots more and managed to convince her that she was a true winner. Astonishingly, she is determined to go back and win the whole thing one day. And it’s not just because she wants the coupons for free bowling. She has a will of iron, that child.
BTW, later that night I talked to a teenager I know that had been at the show.
"Alexa was great!" Keri said "She's so little, but she dances so well. Plus she showed that it's not only black people that can dance well!"
It was only then that I realized that Alexa had been the ONLY white contestant in the competition! In fact, no white kids had danced at all the whole night.
I think that living here really has made me become as close to colorblind as a person can get. Skin color is not the first or even second thing I notice about someone. It's really a gift, this realization that I don't see black kids and white kids anymore. I just see kids.
NB: I did not have my camera with me, so no pics on this one, sorry.


MLW said...

Go Alexa!!!! Wow, that an 8 year old would get up in front of everyone and compete with people twice that age--I am really proud! That takes GUTS.

lynsey said...

Could you take some pictures of Alexa dancing and post them? All your children are amazing.