The tiny Richtersveld settlement of Lekkersing opened its arms to us by inviting us to the Fashion and Beauty Pageant at the local primary school. We didn’t expect the entertainment to last for four and a half hours – or to have quite so much fun as we did.
The evening started with a prayer during which God seemed to be harangued. Not ‘please will you bless this gathering’ in Lekkersing, but ‘bless it or else’.
Then the principal, large of girth and of voice, explained how the evening was going to work – that members of the audience would be voting for our favourites in each group.
Predictably, the juniors were adorable. One little guy got it into his head to kiss his partner and the audience went wild, catcalling, stomping their feet and generally expressing their approval in uninhibited terms.
Each boy posed for effect, and most of the girls were well aware of how cute they were. Five finalists were chosen and then we voted again before the crowning ceremony.
So that no one felt left out, there were presents for all participants – packets of sweets and small plastic toys.
After an interval during which one of the moms brought us ice cream cones, we started with the ‘seniors’, twelve or thirteen years old. Now the difference between boys and girls became marked.
The boys were all terribly cool, swaggering, striking macho poses, not a smile among them. It was all about attitude, and smiling obviously wasn’t something a cool dude would do.
The girls were more about charm and flirtatiousness, smiling, looking coquettishly back at us over their shoulders, using their swaying hips to maximum effect.
Audience participation remained eager and boisterous. Usually in the Big City, reactions of such excitable and noisy hilarity are the province of people who are getting progressively more and more drunk.
Here, though, the people were just high on Fanta, ice cream and life, not an alcoholic drink in sight in this deeply Christian community.
Of course, voting had nothing to do with looks or fashion sense. It was all a matter of popularity and how many of a participant’s family members were in the audience. By far the prettiest girl didn’t even make the finals. Nor did the one who got the loudest catcalls from the boys.
But after a good-natured, rollicking evening, the new queen was at last crowned with a pretty silver tiara.
The king had to make do with a homemade crown made of cardboard and tinfoil.
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