Yesterday I was invited to a Children's Day event at the Diamond Jubilee Hall. Prior to the event, all I knew was that I should arrive promptly at 6pm wearing smart-casual attire. The committee chair happens to be a Rotarian who is sponsoring the Blood Drive, hence my admittance. Little did I know, it was a celebration of Indian children in Tanzania.
There are a surprisingly large number of Indians in East Africa, over 90,000 in TZ alone. I usually encounter them at the Upanga Club on Friday nights, where I play bingo and eat chicken tikka masala (a nice break from rice and ugali). Other than that, my interactions with Tanzanians of Indian descent are limited to Rotary meetings and other high-class encounters. If you've ever heard the stereotype that Indians are the best businessmen in the world, Tanzania is a perfectly fitting example. Nearly all banks, hotels, and other insanely profitable businesses are owned and run by Tanzanians of Indian descent. From my observation, this has caused major tension between Indian-Tanzanians and Black-Tanzanians. However, they tend to get along most peacefully in Tanzania, as compared with other East African nations, which have gone so far as to kick all Indians out.
Fortunately, Tanzania is a relatively peaceful country. This particular event was celebrating 50 years of peace and unity for Indians in Tanzania, coinciding with the upcoming 50 year anniversary of Tanzania's independence from the United Kingdom.
It was a fantastic event. The High Commissioner of India in Tanzania made a speech on the great relationship Indians have had with Tanzanians, thanks the cooperation and assistance with integration, facilitated by the first President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere back in 1961. They had many Tanzanians come on stage to receive an award and blessing of good luck from the High Commissioner. Many of these people were recipients of aid from the Indian groups--headmaster whose school received running water, Sisters who received a sewing machine, etc. It was a nice gesture to show the way many have chosen to give back to the community, and to encourage others to participate in the future.
One of the funniest moments of the evening was the singing of the national anthems. They began with the Tanzanian National Anthem, which I quietly sang along with, though not a single other person in my row joined. Most people in the audience (Tanzanian citizens or ex-pats) didn't know the national anthem! Good thing they played the Indian National Anthem next--everyone knew that one!
Then came the performances. It was Childrens Day, so there had to be children involved. It started off with the cute little kids who are just put on stage to make everyone smile. It worked. They were adorable. As each new group went up, the performances became more elaborate and entertaining. All were traditional Indian dances. They were fantastic! Two things which were most notable--hands and outfits. In many of the dances performed by teens, the position of hands was so important. The way they placed their fingers, such a tiny detail, made a dramatic difference in the style of the performance. And of course, all the kids were wearing beautiful Indian clothes--kurtis, salwar, sarees, sherwani, and dupatta. (Don't feel bad if you don't know any of those words. I just looked them up too. If you google-image search the names, you'll see some of the beautiful styles I'm talking about.) And it wasn't just the children who were wearing these clothes. Everyone in the audience was dressed up too! The colors were spectacular.
I had a great evening. It was really nice to be surrounded by such a strong, vibrant culture and appreciation for performance art (apart from shaking your butt really fast).