One of the many musical numbers that dazzled us.

My fellow 4-H-ers may remember the Fashion Review.  For one night, you got to strut your stuff on the catwalk (in a school gym or a livestock arena) showing off the clothes you spent all summer sewing.  Young kids in make-up.  Dazzling stage lights.  It was terrifying.  My sisters frequently went to the state fair to model their duds, but I barely ranked above the “thanks for coming” ribbon.

Imagine my dismay when the students asked me if I would judge their modelling contest.

We live in a school.  There are seven others that we serve, but there is only one we call home.  It’s peaceful, quiet, and about 5 degrees Celsius cooler than any of the other schools.  There are 135 12th graders also living in the school.  They study ALL the time.  Before I get up and after I go to bed, they are in the classroom studying or being taught extra classes.  Apparently they are also singing, writing poetry, and planning events like the fundraiser/talent show/pageant we witnessed last Thursday.

It came together quickly.  The teachers weren’t sure it would happen and the date was changed at least once.  I asked teachers and students advice on how one judges a rural South African modelling contest.  No pointers.  I should have paid more attention while I was living in pageant-happy Georgia.  My colleagues/housemates were also recruited.  John as “the old man” can get out of anything he doesn’t want to do.  Tom hates passing judgement on anyone, but he’s a good soldier, so helped us out.  Mike thrives on this kind of thing.

John looking less than thrilled, but at least he's not at the judge's table.

John looking less than thrilled, but at least he’s not at the judge’s table.

The event was fantastic.  We hear the kids sing every day (and it’s amazing), but we never get to see them dance, act, or even wear their own street clothes.  There was a soap opera-like drama in isiZulu that involved two stabbings, two proposals, and a couple of old men–one of the kids had shaved his head into male-pattern baldness.  There was choreography with costumes, and a stomping dance that took my breath away.  I tried writing down the synchopated rhythms so I could play them later, but they were gone as quickly as they came.

Rocking the formal wear event.

Rocking the formal wear event.

And there was modeling.  A little dude in a 3-piece suit.  Small girls with big smiles and last-minute lipstick.  Teenage girls in dresses way too adult for high school.  Boys with enough swagger to make tank tops look like high fashion.  They paraded in front of us with their contestant numbers.  As with many events, it was too hot and took too long.  Little kids were falling asleep.  Bigger kids were getting restless.  This judge was getting cranky.  We tallied our final scores before we even figured out that there were two modelling events!  Some of the younger contestants had to go home or were just too hot and tired to continue.

Too hot and too long for this little dude.  I'm with you, man.

Too hot and too long for this little dude. I’m with you, man.

But they were lovely.  And happy.  And terribly excited when the kings and queens were announced.

Sharing this event with the students made us theirs.  They greet us more readily and smile more openly. And we are starting to recognize individual faces and talents.  Home just got more homey.