Hi everyone! It’s Jenna, and on behalf of our group – hamjambo!
Way back, on our first day in Bukoba, our Tanzanian friend, William, asked us if anyone would be interested in judging the Miss Kagera pageant. I jokingly agreed to do it, thinking that they would reject the idea of having an American judge the contest. After not receiving any form of confirmation or talking about it for a week, William showed up at our doorstep on Saturday morning (the day of the pageant) telling me I was selected to be Bukoba’s representative judge! I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, but I figured it would be an adventure.
A few hours later, Mr. Supa (William’s driver) came to our house and said I was to meet the other two judges who were in a small car. I yelled for James to get ready because I would need him to translate for me, however when I got to the car there was only room for one person and they all spoke English, so I thought I would be OK on my own.
Since they pretty much told me 8 hours before the pageant that I was selected as a judge I didn’t receive an itinerary or anything. I thought that I was just meeting the other judges and then would go home to get into nicer clothes before the real deal. As we kept driving I realized that we weren’t going to the place that the contest was being held, but rather a small hotel up in the hills. It was interesting how they told me they knew English, but no one spoke a word of it the entire time in the car.
Apparently half of the competition was held at this hotel at 3PM… didn’t know this…!! The two categories we judged on were “face, body structure, and catwalk” and “IQ and smile”. I sat down at a table outside, they handed me a score sheet (without any instruction on what to do), and the girls started coming out. Each of the 12 girls gave a catwalk to the table from their hotel room and we asked them questions … well, I shouldn’t say WE because I certainly wasn’t asking any!! Two girls spoke in English (I’m not sure if that was to try to score some brownie points with me), but they were girls who were in University. One contestant was studying computer engineering in Dar es Salaam, and her dream was to spread the love of science to younger girls who are typically discouraged from focusing on engineering or medicine. I gave her a ten in the IQ category, but the other female judge only gave her a 4. I asked her why such a low score, and she commented on how that girl had a slightly bigger tummy than the rest. Needless to say, I was shocked and a bit angry, but I was informed that this was a beauty pageant not a “scholarship contest” – news to me! Anyways, my IQ scores were usually way off because I didn’t have any translation and was pretty much judging on smile, chattiness, and mannerisms. I don’t think there were too many cliché responses (“I want world peace,” etc.), not that I knew what they were saying or anything. After the initial screening, or so they called it, we tallied the scores and chose the top five girls.
Later that evening, the rest of the group and I got ready to go to the pageant. James and I were in VIP seating by the stage and the rest of the group was up in the rafters by the lights, aka all the bugs… haha! The pageant was 95% dancing and singing, some of which were traditional and really cool, but the entire pageant took about 5 hours. We judged three more categories: dress design, beach wear, and evening gown. However, the only instructions I received were to only score the top 5 we had selected earlier. Weird! It seemed unfair to be only scoring those girls and drawing flowers for the others.
The pageant itself was so different than the Miss America pageant, besides some of the outfits and Beyonce. At one point a contestant forgot her words, another pulled a Janet Jackson, and two African boys taught us that the hip joint is actually a ball-and-socket (take it as you will). By the end of the pageant, the other two judges were speaking across me in Swahili and I was either scanning the crowd or falling asleep.
The winner of the pageant will now go on to the Miss Lake Zone pageant, and then Miss Tanzania. The Miss Kagera contest was actually kind of a big deal. The Tanzanian minister to the East African Community Parliament was there, as well as many well-dressed and important people in the community.
So, while here I’ve driven clear across the country of Tanzania, watched a delivery, spread manure for a community garden, exchanged over 2 million Tanzanian shillings, and judged a beauty contest. It has been a great trip so far!!!