I had invited Pastor’s family along, so there were six of us: Mom & me, Pastor, his wife, Siphiwe, and his two children Nokuphila (6 years old) and Siphamandla (3 years old). These were the best behaved children on the planet. We were in the car for hours and they never once whined or complained.
The drive there was uneventful, except that I got a surprise language lesson when we drove past some boys who enthusiastically yelled at the car. I learned the word for “white people.”
It ended up that we were way too early for the celebration, which began at two o’clock, so we went to a nearby game reserve. This was a smaller place, and it was hot hot hot. But it was also a lot of fun spotting the zebras, impala, warthogs, and crocodiles. The kids were loving it. We even saw the rare crocolog. (This is an animal that I personally discovered and named on a trip to Belize. It’s a stealth beast that floats just below the surface of the water. It disguises itself as a crocodile but is much more dangerous in that it brings deep and bitter disappointment every time you encounter one.)*
It was a lovely (and hot) morning and I wasn’t unhappy at all that we were hours early for our original plans.
Our Reed Dance experience began just outside the parking lot. We were walking past a couple of vendors selling a variety of things when one approached me and tugged on my pants. “Where’s your skirt?” she says. My mom was slightly behind me and was being asked the same by another woman.
“I didn’t wear a skirt,” I said.
“Well, they are not going to let you in without a skirt. Do you have one in your car? No? I’ll sell you one right here.”
I had just seen other females (not locals) walking past these vendors and they weren’t wearing skirts. I smelled the distinct scent of scam. If you recall, it was a mere 8 days ago that I got hustled at the airport. I wasn’t all that eager for a repeat performance. But I wasn’t sure. I worried that maybe I was wrong and that we were going to have to turn around and disappoint Pastor’s kids who had been good all day long, just because Mom and I were wearing trousers.
Pastor stepped up and he and the vendor exchanged a few words that I didn’t understand. The woman said, “You don’t have to believe me. Those other people didn’t believe me. They are going to be turned back at the gate. If you don’t believe me, ask that police officer behind you.”
We all looked at the police officer, then back at Pastor. He said, “ok, but I think I’ll ask THAT one,” pointing to a different guy, just in case the vendor and cop were in cahoots. I love Pastor.
Well, guess what? It turns out that women can’t attend the Reed Dance unless they are wearing a skirt. Mom and I both purchased a lovely sarong-type thing from a very smug vendor. We wrapped them around our waists (over our pants with the pant legs still showing) and this seemed to satisfy everybody… except Pastor. He spent a couple of minutes muttering as we trudged up the hill to the entrance. I didn’t catch everything he said, but I did hear the words “setup” and “skirts aren’t required in the Constitution.” He wasn’t the only one annoyed. Those trouser-clad Europeans who had declined the vendors services? We saw them huffing down the hill. They had waited in line only to be turned back at the top, just like the woman had predicted. Oh well. No worries. What’s a few bucks for a good story?
The Reed Dance was amazing. There were dozens and dozens of groups of girls there to dance for the celebration. They came from villages all over the country and even a few from neighboring countries. I had read in the paper that there were more girls this year than last and last year there were more than 100,000 maidens participating.
All of the girls at the event were signing, but a select group was up front with a microphone. It would have been perfect except we were sitting right next to a loud speaker and the accompanying instrument of choice is a whistle. Thankfully, mom refrained from pulling out her hot pink ear plugs. (Yes, Cori, for some reason, mom carries her earplugs with her.)
For the most part, the girls stayed with their village groups. But often you would see groups of girls 4 or 5 crossing the field to join their buddies. How they found them I’ll never know. But towards the end, after a couple of hours, we started to see very young children, 3 or 4 years old, being led by the hand by slightly older girls, maybe 8 or 9. It dawned on Mom and me that these little ones had to use the potty.
It was a fantastic day and I felt so privileged to be able to spend it with Pastor’s family. I told him that he had given me a gift: three more friends in this country.
* Belize was not the only trip where I never saw the animal I went looking for. My friend Kerry and I spent two weeks in Nepal. After four days, our original search for the elusive white Bengal tiger became the search for the elusive clean toilet. (Check out the About Me page for pics of me in Belize and Nepal.)