Friday, December 28, 2007

How to Throw a Beach Party for 200 Kids

First, arrange for a really loud sound system, a generator and a gallon of petrol to power it, and a dj to operate it and supply the dance cd's. The day before buy a 50 lb. bag of rice, a 30 lb. bag of onions, salt, bouillon, MSG, eggplant, tomato paste, firewood, vegetable oil, powdered fruit drink, sugar, and pounds and pounds of fish right off the boat. Borrow five large cooking pots with lids from various people in the community. Go home, clean and coat the fish in a spicy mixture and then fry them. Peel the onions and go to bed early. The next morning, invite over the female neighbors who have the most experience cooking for crowds and for the rest of the morning follow their directions as they prepare a spicy red broth using all of the onions and piles of fresh red pepper pounded to a paste. Measure out some of the broth to use for cooking the fish then measure out 200 cups of rice, sort it and wash it, and pour it into the broth that is simmering over an open fire. Stir well with a large stick and then retreat to the shade because it is already 11 a.m., the sun is high in the sky, and the combined heat and smoke of the rice simmering over the fire is overwhelming. When the broth is entirely soaked up by the rice, pull the firewood away from the fire and use bowls to scoop the rice into two huge pots that can be carried to the beach on the heads of two eleven-year-old girls. Then clean the pots using water carried from the community pump. When everything is washed and all of the volunteers have been properly compensated with ample pots of the jollof rice and fish, go carry more water from the pump and step behind the screen of old rice bags to wash off the sweat and soot from the cooking. Put on your hippest clothes and head to the beach.

It is understood that all of this cooking is taken care of by the women on the faculty and many of their female friends and relatives. The men are otherwise occupied from 9 a.m. supervising the students who have started to arrive dressed in their best clothes. Some boys arrive in brand new, polyester jump suits with the collars turned up, others in spotlessly clean jeans, t-shirts and sneakers, others in old shirts and shorts that have been specially pressed. Girls are wearing tank tops and shorts, or fancy dresses handmade from local batiked cloth. A few are wearing tattered party dresses with torn tulle and dirty lace that nevertheless fly up wonderfully whenever they twirl around.

The dancing takes no time to begin once the music is turned on. Everyone down to the smallest, big-eyed boy gets into the groove easily, and the dancing goes continuously except for a break to eat until the end of the party at 5 in the afternoon. Two soccer balls fly around the beach all day and attract young men from a nearby party. The little boys are quite distressed when they find their ball has been appropriated and come running to teachers to ask for help getting it back. After lunch the older, most daring children venture into the warm water of the ocean to wrestle and toss around a soccer ball. The smaller, more timid children form a long line along the shore, just up from the wave line, watching wide-eyed and a little envious until everyone is tired and comes wading out of the ocean. When the children are told it is time to go home and enjoy the three-week holiday vacation, most are silent but eventually head off to their separate homes smiling broadly and worn out from the long day in the sun.

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