Daily Archives: March 28, 2010

Prom Night, Kampala style.

At first I didn’t want to go to prom here. I had such fond memories of being involved with the prom in Trinidad last year and such special thoughts about the people at that prom; I thought this could only be a disappointment. I don’t know or teach any of these students, they are all much older than the kids I spend my day with and I could think of plenty of other things I would rather be doing on a Saturday night. Some teachers were having dresses made and buying tickets and getting all geared up for a fabulous night but my heart was elsewhere. Then I was asked to photograph the evening and not being one with much ability in the  saying no dept., I found myself at the Serena hotel this past Saturday night. I had to get dressed up and I wasn’t in the mood so I chose a rather casual dress with some soft bronze satin, gold shoes and a rust coloured scarf in my hair. With dangly earrings and a splash of lip gloss I found it passed for sufficiently making an effort.

I arrived grumpy, I will admit it. When I realized the lighting was all wrong, I got more grumpy. Then once I faced up to the fact that my SLR was once and truly broken and I would have to use my Leica point and shoot, I was not happy at all. I looked around for wine.

Then something happened and the prettiness and effort put into the event started to charm me. It was so different from the prom last year that my nostalgia didn’t get the better of me.  Still, I couldn’t help but  compare the Trini kids having fun with the mainly African kids having a good time. For much of the evening, between snapping pics and having the odd dance I was more than happy to sit and watch these kids interact with each other.

In Trinidad the girls were beautiful, there is no getting around the fact that the Trini’s are some of the most beautiful people in the world. And there was access to fashion there, even though some of the girls got their frocks from Florida. Here I was impressed that any one found a dress! Yes, the taste was much different but the effort was the same.

This was the first prom ever in our school and none of the students knew what to expect. Yet the girls donned frocks with a shine and sparkles and had their hair done up with flowers. Heels were worn, although for the majority it was obvious it was the first time, corsages were placed around wrists and the men ( and these boys looked like men this night) wore the sharpest suits that they could find. Many of these boys, in fact visited tailors to select material and cut. This was a big deal for these kids who had rarely, if ever, got this dressed up before. Everyone looked rather shiny and polished, as if a giant shoe brush had been rubbed over their scruffy school time looks.

Certainly, because they were dressed to the nines and all had dates, they were obsessed with having their photos taken. Like an affirmation, when standing before the black boards with blu-tacked silver stars, they were saying “these are MY friends”. Like wolves circling the chief in their pack, the boys took turn having the pics snapped with the sharpest dude in the room. Girls lined up to have photos taken with best friends and then more and more squeezed into the photo, everyone wanting to be part of that special group.

In true pack behaviour many of the dances involved all the shiny teens dancing in a circle while one after another of the coolest guys in the room displayed their dance moves in the centre. And yes, these guys could dance. Their rise to a premier position in the teen social pecking order was assured by those moves. High school would be easy for those guys.  Maybe not so for the tall, sort of shy looking guy watching from the outer ring of the circle. Or the few girls that sat at table and watched, occasionally throwing out the odd comment.

No one wanted to be the first on the dance floor,. In Trinidad no one wanted to be the last. It was a couple of girls, the ones with the shortest skirts that got up first. After a minute or two they dragged a guy up and then his friend followed. Still, until the coolest kid got up to dance, the crowd looked thin. Once he had okayed it as cool to dance, the whole room was moving.

A few girls looked longingly at the beauties, knowing how much easier their lives are. They loved to watch each other and with a mixture of lust and envy these teens found the best way to look was with a camera. Every time someone did something remotely funny or cool cameras were whipped out. I am sure that the day after at 3pm there will be over a thirty albums on Facebook called Prom 2010.

When I was a teenager film was expensive and not everyone had a camera. Our every move on the dance floor was not recorded for perusal in Facebook the next day. I think these constant flashes have created a vain teen culture, more vain than even ours was. People are self consciously recording every moment all the time and they know that these pics will be poured over and then rarely looked at again. But tomorrow when the shy girl sees how pretty she looked and how many people were standing beside her in the picture, she’ll smile. When the guys, who through some bizarre code were not allowed to smile in photos, see their ice sharp expressions, their smooth suits and the celebrity pose they struck they will feel good, knowing that just for one night, and maybe even one moment, they had it, the IT that every teen so desperately wants.

In the end I am glad I went to this prom. I think the kids had a great time and there is no happy feeling quite as great as watching a room full of people have a really good time. The spirit in our school and the bonding between these kids has increased because of this one night.

Of course what ever scandalous activity happens at the after party will probably over take the memories of the actual prom. But isn’t that the whole point of prom? No one got all dressed up just to dance in front of the teachers. What was going on, for the most part was a mating ritual and the rest of the story happens where no teachers exist.


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