Thursday, January 14, 2010

Invited to a Ball

   Last year Tom applied to become a part of the Zambian Police Reserves. The plan was that he would be available in case of riots or general disorder. When his application was finally approved he was called in to start training in October he found that he had been given a higher rank than other new reservists because of his security and firearms experience.
  When he started his training and the police saw how seriously he took it all they began offering him more responsibility. They may place him in charge of all the reservists in this province to handle training and some administration work.
  What this has done is given Tom a much better idea about the laws of the country and how the people interact with each other and the police. We feel that we can be more help to the community now because of we're more 'plugged in'.

Last weekend we were invited to attend the annual Policeman's Ball. It was only for officers and was going to be held in the city where we do our grocery shopping. We decided to head down Friday and take care of errands, attend the ball in the afternoon and the after spending a night in a hotel do our shopping Saturday morning and head home. A night away from work! Hooray!

The event was due to start at 6 PM but we were warned that like most things here it would start a bit late. We arrived at the hotel at 6:40 and could see it was still going to be awhile. We wandered around the hotel while the staff organized the room and then at 7:15 those of us who were there (only about a quarter of the invited guests) filed in and found our name cards and seats.

Then we sat and sat. People slowly filtered in and sat quietly in their seats. At about 7:45 we all stood up as those sitting at the high table paraded in and we listened to the national anthem. It was only the music and no one sang along as I've seen them do on other occasions. I don't know if this is normal for formal events.

Then we all sat quietly again. After a bit they began making announcements that the MC was actually late which was the main hold up. This is when the 'drama' began. Not having much vested in the evening and just glad for an evening out I was happy to sit back and watch it all unfold. (of course I was planning to blog it which made it twice as fun.)

Since the MC was not yet there another gentleman got up and offered to get the program started by introducing the commanding officer and asking him to open with a speech. The commandant refused shaking his head fiercely. The people seated near us thought that he was waiving his speech so we could get the program back on track. But no. He just wanted water served to the high table first. So slowly a waitress (the only waitress in a room with 200 people) slowly made her way to the back of the room, arranged 8 bottles of water on a tray and slowly walked up to the high table and carefully placed water in front of each person.

As she did this the MC arrived. Finally! The program was ready to start. He was completely flustered and had no idea what to do. He decided to just jump in and introduced the commanding officer (again!) and opened the floor to him. Again the commandant shook his head and refused to speak. This time it seemed that he wanted drinks served to the high table.

By this time a couple more waiters had come in and they worked feverishly to arrange 8 bottles of liquor on a tray. On the tray went the bottles, off the tray came the bottles and then back on again.Over and over again until it was somehow up to snuff and carefully carried up to the high table where a different bottle was placed in front of each honored guest.
  As the waitress served the commandant I could see him gesturing and was able to read his body language easily:

  C: What about everyone else in the room? Will they get drinks now?

  W: No, we're going to serve them at dinner.

  C: Well that is unacceptable!

  At this point he stormed away from the high table and I told Tom to listen for the guillotine. Immediately after he left the room waiters, managers and the hotel owner poured into the room and began serving soft drinks and beer to all the guests. They were really funny--they would give you the drink you wanted, pop it open and then pop 1-3 more drinks open and line them up in front of you.

  Now it was a party! Immediately the crowd came to life. Up till now they had been sitting very still and quiet. Now they were chattering up a storm. And of course this is when the speeches started.
  The speeches were pretty good. Standard fare but not overly long. And boy, was that a relief. As soon as the speeches ended they announced that the food was served and after the high table had served themselves from the buffet then everyone could line up starting at the front of the room. Guess where we were? Right at the back!
  The MC kept announcing that there was plenty of food. Not to worry. No need to panic and push and shove in line. There was plenty for all! Tom stepped out to use the toilet and passed the trays laden with food. He told me there was sliced sausage fried with peppers and onions. Oh joy! My favorite. People passed us with plates heaped with meat, pasta, potatoes and on each plate a boiled egg(!).

  Soon it was our turn to get in line. We joined the throng moving closer and closer to the food. I was starving by this point. It was 9 PM and lunch was a very distant memory. We began to think there might be trouble in paradise when there were no plates or forks left. Finally some were rustled up and we moved on to the salad. Oh, the salad bowl which was empty save for a couple tablespoons of coleslaw. We accepted it gratefully and moved on to the meat line....that delicious sausage was history. Tom and I each got one slice of sausage, a couple bites of pasta and potatoes. Those eggs we were mocking--no more!

  Thankfully Tom had seen them grilling meat outside and quickly we made our way to the BBQ pits and scooped up some sausages and steaks. Score!

  After dinner came the dancing. Every social event here is incomplete without dancing. The MC called different groups up to the dance floor: the high table, the commanding officers, the retirees, etc. When the retirees were dancing the commanding officer came and dragged Tom and I up to the dance floor where we joined the African-style conga line. Everyone cheered when we shook our behinds to the rhythm of the music.

This gentleman was really feeling the music.
No matter which group was called he would jump up.
Just getting up the aisle was a production as he danced and shimmied.

  Later on in the evening the D.J played 'muzungu' music for us and singled us out to come and dance. Tom and I got to dance a solo jive to music not well suited for dancing. Tom broke out some John Travolta and Michael Jackson moves to the delight of the crowd. When the song was over and we made our way back to our table several people came up to thank us for dancing. They seemed sincere.

When we called it quits around midnight the party was still going strong. In fact they were serving out a second dinner of grilled meat. We really did have a good time. It was a treat to get out of the house and relax.

An 'n' saved this from being an uptight ball.


  1. "An 'n' saved this from being an uptight ball." Too funny!

  2. Tom and Amy, you looked just gorgeous for the ball. Tom, is that the 3 piece suit you got recently? HANDSOME!!
    Bet you're glad Tom is not afraid to take initiative and get food for you, ha!!
    I'm proud of you both... cheers!!

  3. Your posts are always fascinating. It certainly is a different culture there! If an event had started that late after it was supposed to here, no one would have been left in the room! :D


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