Monday, February 19, 2007

I have a deep anti-social component to my personality. The fact that I have a husband, four children and a team of no less than 3 household helpers really puts a cramp in my aspirations to hermit-hood. Luckily, I do have some small control over my life: I can refuse to go to parties. I hate parties. I hate smoking. I hate loud music. I don’t like to get drunk. I don’t like chatting with people I barely know. And people that I do know and like, I prefer in small quantities.

But when R. invited me to the Chinese New Year’s party for the Taiwanese Embassy, how could I resist? My undergrad degree is in anthropology, after all, and here was a chance to observe a the local Taiwanese community during their biggest holiday of the year, welcoming in the Year of the Pig. And I was also counting on some excellent food at the buffet.
R. is the mother of Mallory’s best friend. Mal and E. have been tight since the family arrived back in 2001, direct from Taipei, not speaking a word of French. R and I are not really pals. She’s nice enough, but she hangs with the international women’s club here in Ouaga. They are everything that is not me: The few times I have visited their homes, I have seen that none of these people have a single book, or even magazine visible in their homes. People that can read and can afford books, but don’t bother. Ick. Also, while the group does the occasional project “to help the less fortunate”- making quilted wall hangings or embroidering Christmas cards to sell and donating the money to a cause, they would never actually visit the homes of poor Burkinabé families or work beside them. (Who knows what you’d catch?) They are all about makeup, clothes and parties. (I’m generalizing like mad, of course, but being scrupulously fair is SO much less fun). These people have so much education and so many advantages, but they are doing NOTHING. They just live their lives of ease and ignore everything that surrounds them here.
But I figured that the New Year party would be an interesting cultural experience. Just this once, I said “yes”. Then R. asked if I’d be willing to learn a song in Mandarin to sing at the party with a small group of women. Hey- flattery will get you everywhere with me. I showed up at rehearsal two weeks ago and along with nine other women. (each of us from a different country: Burkina, Senegal, Belgium, Spain, France, Mexico, Argentina, India, Lebanon and the USA.)
and stumbled through a session of phonetic Chinese for the song “Ping Tsu”.
To help us practise at home, R. gave me a gift that I will treasure forever (really!!!). She made copies of a Chinese karaoke dvd for all of us. It has music videos of several songs in Mandarin and it is a trip! The fashions are right out of an episode of Dynasty circa 1985. The shoulder pad, while extinct in Europe and North America, is apparently alive and thriving in the Far East.
All of the female leads have a penchant for writhing around with diaphanous scarves fluttering in the breeze. And there can't be a single red rose left in the entire country, either real or fake. They are all needed as music video props. The music itself is a melange of The Carpenters, Abba and Kenny G, all done in a minor key with high-pitched, nasal vocals.
We had a couple of rehearsals with the Burkinabé band that went pretty well. We didn't sound exactly like the music video, but I thought that was a good thing.
So, the music seemed to be under control. But one huge question remained: What should I wear?

To be continued........

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