This weekend, the Laerskool Seodin (Seodin Primary School) put on a melodrama to raise funds for the school. I was lucky enough to attend as a guest of some Kuruman friends. Here, the term "melodrama" refers to a series of choreographed and lip-synched musical stylings of popular American and Afrikaaner songs. They were each performed by members of the school staff, faculty and School Governing Body (SGB). I had seen pictures of melodramas from previous years, so I went in with high expectations. I came away more than impressed and more than a little amused.
The show opened with the principal and his wife in a moving rendition of "Lady in Red." A teacher and her fiance soon followed with "My Heart Will Go On," which was just listed in the program as "Titanic". The set for that piece included the bow of a ship, helpfully labelled "Titanic" in case anyone was confused. Afrikaans offerings included the rather sweet "Ek bring diamante vir jou" (I bring diamonds for you), but far more hilarious was the novelty song "Sexy Hoender (Sexy Chicken). The dancers for this song included 2 women arrayed in boas, 1 in a penguin suit and 1 splendidly dressed as the sexy chicken herself in a feathered neon headdress, wings and a hula-style skirt from which she whipped out plastic eggs and hurled them into the audience.
The only slightly awkward arrangement was that of DJ Ossewa. I should mention here that every performer and audience member was white. Laerskool Seodin uses Afrikaans as the language of instruction and it is located in a well-off and predominantly Afrikaaner section of town. Perhaps as a result black students are a small minority. In any case, DJ Ossewa's set consisted of an Afrikaaner trio dressed in tattered clothes dancing to the house music so popular in the villages. It was likely to be well-intentioned gentle mockery, of the variety so popular on late-night TV, but it was still a bit unsettling. In any case, after the house music, DJ Ossewa and crew rocked the place with traditional Afrikaaner children's songs set to a modern beat. That part was great fun.
In addition to Elvis medleys sung by cricket coaches, ballet performances and more outrageous musical fakery than I'd ever seen in one place before, the melodrama featured several intermissions during which the curtains closed, but the lights stayed down and the music was turned up. Young and old, couples took to a large, cleared space on the gymnasium floor to dance. Apparently, Afrikaaners love to dance, and many of the couple were quite good. What surprised me most were the youngest attendees, high-school age, who seemed to enjoy nothing better than a good waltz. It was like a 19th century prom, but with jeans.
The whole event took place in the school gym, but the space had been transformed by a dozen or so parents who decorated tables with candles and fancy tablescapes and also provided a dinner to ticket-holders. It was the closest I've ever come to dinner theater. Sexy chickens on stage, fried chicken off-stage. Well actually, my table was provided with mini-quiches, cheese puffs, deviled eggs, meatballs, brownies and all manner of delicious things to eat and drink. Oh, the drinking...
It was a school function. A primary school function. When a tablemate asked what I would like to drink my first thought was, "How many options could there be?" A lot, as it turned out, and that was just the alcohol. This was no water-juice-soda school function. Not only was there a bar from which to purchase drinks, but many people brought their own. During the first part of the evening my table stuck to the bar, but then out came the little tin cup. It was passed around the table. When it got to me, I looked questioningly to my host. "It's nice," she assured me. And it was. It was melktart-flavored and topped with cinnamon. I'd tried it before at another Afrikaaner function. I passed the cup on. The show continued. Time passed. A shot appeared on my plate. I looked around. "It's awful," said my host, grinning. We drank. It was, indeed, awful. That finished, we returned to the show. Time again passed. Then the cup came back. Everyone looked at me, I looked at them. "It's lethal," they told me. Not quite, but close. The cup went around a few times. There may be a link to that and the fact that the final intermission involved my entire table dancing in a circle, taking turns with the sexy hoender head gear and doing the "twist".
The drinking, dancing and general hilarity came to an end around midnight. As "Jabulani" came on the sound system and the dancers on the floor dwindled to the under-twenty set, my table abandoned ship and retreated to someone's home for coffee. Momentarily re-charged we chatted away about Africa, but exhaustion soon overcame us and we drove home to our respectives beds around 1 am.
A mere five hours later, the household I was staying with was on the road, but more on that later.