Sunday, December 9, 2012

Queens for a Day

We arrived in Bakpe on Friday morning ready for rehearsal, but this was to be no ordinary morning. The children were waiting for us under the mango tree, dressed in their finest traditional clothes.

The drummers amongst them, grouped together, had already begun to play. Susanne and I were led to our seats behind a table beautifully set with Kente cloth, and the children sang and danced for us, bare feet on the red earth.

A short video of the performance

This incredible performance went on for probably close to an hour. Then the grandmothers led us away...

The women led us into the small school office, where we were told to... strip! We did so, and the women proceeded to dress us like queens, wrapping us in their fine cloth and adorning us with beads. We heard singing and drumming right outside the office, and lo and behold, the adults of the village had come for us, and in a singing and dancing procession led us back to the festivities. 

Musical procession
Susanne Larner (left) and Krista Dalby (right) - the newest queens of Bakpe
We were seated in a true position of honour, next to the Chief, who was also dressed for the occasion, and a couple of women were fanning us! Normally I wouldn't accept such subservience, but the women were smiling away and having a great time, so I figured I would just go with the flow...

The Chief is sitting next to me with the black hat with white markings...
but check out the guy in the background with the giant sunglasses!
Good thing too, because the flow went on and on, children and adults singing, drumming, dancing. Then the ceremony began. One of the grandmothers made us a symbolic offering of money, we were presented with sashes of Kente cloth with our names woven into them, and baby powder was sprinkled on our naked shoulders. As if all of this wasn't enough, we had honorary titles bestowed upon us. Susanne was named Queen of Development and I was named Developmental Linguist. We were told that these were our titles for life, that no one else would hold them as long as we were alive. Of course this was followed by more singing, more dancing, and some guy yelled out to us, "I love you, man!"

The whole experience was hours long and was in equal parts beautiful, moving and completely surreal.There was a point during all of this when I started to lose it. I could not believe that all of this was for us! I struggled to accept that I could have possibly done anything to merit this kind of treatment, and really had to choke back the tears because I didn't want the kids to see me crying. I don't know if we deserved such an honour, but I knew that I had the power to continue helping the people of Bakpe, and that with any luck, one day we would prove ourselves worthy of the love we'd been shown.

And then it was over. The crowd dispersed, the grandmothers led us away to help us get undressed, gifting us with beaded bracelets. We emerged from the office in our t-shirts and western clothes... back to reality. But queens or not, we had a show to put on that night, and without a moment to spare, we launched into our final rehearsals.

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