Have decided to blow caution to the wind and hold a party. To be honest we have reached the point where owe almost everybody we know. The problem is that living here in Africa, there is something rather distasteful about spending money or rather 'conspicuous consumption' when the huge majority struggle so hard to get food onto the table and do so with such a heroic, sunny, smiling outlook on life, taking each day as it comes. It's like at Christmas. I don't put the presents under the tree until Christmas eve when we are alone as a family for 48 hours. It's silly but I'm too embarrassed. To be honest, it niggles.
For instance, today I met our x.x.x.x. askari having agreed to pay his son's first term secondary school fees. Our friend was supposed to be earning by now but funding for his project 'Hope Life Foundation' in Kibera has been delayed yet again and he still waits to hear whether the AMREF job that he has been short listed for, will come through. I do believe that he was a bit gutted to have to come to us for help. We are all wishing and wishing that he would get on his feet and start earning, but at the same time, I have learned from bitter experience that delays are intrinsic to Kenyan life.
Initially you feel, 'OMG, we have just paid school fees and we're feeling skint too'. But then you think, 'but somehow we are going to pull a party out of the bag for my husband's 40th with booze and too much food and so how could I sleep at night thinking that I'd said no to 13,000 for somebody else's school fees.'
Then you think, 'actually, why aren't I paying school fees for the people who work full time in and around our house instead of this comparatively random guy? Probably I should, but then if I offer now, the floodgates will surely open.' And there we go. Round and round in circles. A party just seems so frivolous.
There's another thing. My track record on parties isn't exactly great. I think we've held 4 'grown up' parties in our eleven year married life - all spent in E Africa. (I guess that kids birthday tea parties don't exactly count here). Over that eleven years, the one thing I've learned is there is an art to giving good parties. The problem is that I have no grasp whatsoever on what that is.
1. Hosting the Hash House Harriers in Dar es Salaam. Rip roaring party but gave everybody food poisoning from my paella. Yes, ten years on and I'm still blushing. Paella was my brilliant idea as an alternative to spag bol, sausage and mash or curry -the usual Hash fare. In reality, doing something different was pure foolishness. Tried and tested formulas always work best. What really makes me cringe is the fact that people were coming back for more, saying how delicious it was. Extra bad, most of them were people that I didn't know very well at all. Owch. The next morning, my mobile phone was red hot with people ringing in. 'were you ill? were you ill? were you ill too?' I blamed the cheap prawns. (see previous post). Goes without saying, my Hash career was shortlived. I did go back, but I think it took at least 6 months for anyone to feel brave enough to make a joke of it..... and this is the Hash we're talking about!!
2. House warming in Dar es Salaam. Most of the people who said they were definitely coming, didn't turn up. We made a huge space for a dance floor, got a DJ to come with lights and decks for our thirty (max) guests. I guess it was all dreadfully daunting for our scattered guests and honestly a bit too much. Again (and don't die when I tell you this!) the cook I hired to do the food this time (once bitten twice shy) poisoned the brave few people who came to the party with his prawn kebabs! Why did you serve prawns again? I hear you cry? In my defense, we lived on the beach... it was Dar es Salaam, what else was I going to give them? Oh goodness, reliving this is still agony!
3. Drinks party in the garden here in Nairobi. A mixed success. We got caterers but the fancy round tables were too spread out over the lawn. Not sure how many people came, but because it was all so spaced out it looked like hardly any at the busyest of times. We asked my friend, the kids entertainer, to come with his acrobats and fire-eaters as a form of entertainment. On this they certainly delivered.
One guest who arrived late said 'who was that guy in the car park with dreadlocks smoking a joint? Sorry but we wondered what sort of party this was going to be?'
The rather worse for wear acrobats then proceeded to jump through burning hoops, but kept knocking them over onto the dangerously dry grass. All of us mums who are pretty oh-fey with their usual routine, knew immediately that something was up as the men staggered about and beat their drums. No fatalities that time though.
4. Decided to pin down 40 invited guests for a sit down meal - rather than risk the numbers nightmare again. This time we made the mistake of serving 'Sea Breeze' cocktails beforehand, though I must admit, it worked well in getting the party going. We also had a dressing up theme 'Kenya Cowboys' which was a laugh. Lots of men in short khaki shorts with beaded belts and ladies in 1980s attire (puffy shirts/low slung belts etc.)
The caterers we had asked to come were, putting it politely, lacking direction (their boss was away travelling) and they only brought 12 bottles of wine for 40 people. This could have been a mixed blessing in retrospect, but in the event, most of our friends brought along bottles, so there was lots. Even the caterers were 4 sheets to the wind when they left, having half taken down the tent by midnight - I guess in an attempt to wrap the whole thing up. Oh, and there wasn't enough food to go round for the sit down dinner, which may have added to our woes. From a host's point of view, it was chaos.
After an hour or two, decorative candelabra were going flying in the garden as they got stumbled over, we had one moonie pulled over dinner during a 'best dressing-up' prize giving, we blew two of our own amplifiers whilst trying to do our own 'ipod' disco, somebody's phone got nicked and best of all a huge fight broke out in the bushes amongst a select few of our guests.
Suffice to say, a remaining memory is the sight of one guest with the back of his shirt ripped in two, trying desperately to shimmy over our metal gate as our bewildered night watchman ran after him, holding the guest's shoes in an attempt to return them.
5. Party to be held soon...
This time we're trying the drinks option again, but my idea is to try and centralise it in the house so that we are all squashed up inside and talking loudly over each other's heads like English drinks parties. This will save us the tent but of course is dependant on how many people actually show. We may end up shouting across echoing, empty spaces as usual. Who knows.
There is reason behind my maddness. Bar none, all parties in Kenya are held outside, in tents or on verandas. To pitch at a party, scantily clad, with no jumper or fleece stowed for wearing later, is utter suicide here. While the cold is an effective way to ensure that all of your guests have gone home at a reasonable hour (the chill factor gets to everybody in the end) this time I decided that I want to do something different.....hang on, I'm already on dangerous ground....
Wish me luck..... it might take me a year or two to pluck up the courage to tell you how it went....