"Today you will go to a baby naming ceremony," my host mother said matter-of-factly. This was not my decision to make. It was of no import if I had made other plans for my Sunday. As the resident white person, it was expected that I would attend all major parties, festivals, and celebrations, and, furthermore, it was expected that I woud dance.
In Sierra Leone, white people are a fairly new phenomenon, and very little is known about them. One thing that is widely understood, however, is that they do not know how to dance, but it is hilarious to watch them try. And so it is expected, if you are going to throw a respectable party, that you will furnish at least one white person that will at some point get up on stage and attempt a few moves for the amusement of your guests. Failing to provide this pomuy clown would be a serious faux pas, and would mean an express ticket out of the ranks of high society. Sierra Leone is one of the world's fastest growing economies, and, as more move up into the ranks of the middle class, the frequency of parties is ever increasing. Luckily, Peace Corps has stepped in to meet the country's burgeoning needs.
The night before I had made an appearance at Paige's host brother's graduation. The tiny house was jam-packed with random children who had no association wtih the family but had streamed in from across town for free popcorn and soda. This is normal. Like with the cows of India, it would not do to turn away the hundred beggar children that arrived uninvited, dressed in rags with snot running down their noses. The house was a veritable furnace, and there was barely enough space for even our conservative white people moves, but we danced all the same. Mark and I went home after one song, leaving Paige to her fate amidst the hordes and thundering bass; it would not be an easy night's rest. The following Saturday, I would show up to a party at Nick's house to make a brief speech and dance, with three white accomplises, on a pedestal in the center of the crowd; this was clearly a man of some prestige, to have secured so many pomuy for his daughter's graduation.
"Yu no sabi dance", one girl said to Paige with an expression of concern. "Dis dance no fayn", another added. They didn't mean any offense – they were just speaking with the bluntness characteristic of a culture with no capacity for niceties or half-truths. She needed to know. It wouldn't do for her to make a fool of herself in front of so many people.
I had never envisioned a career in dance – my aptitudes always tended to point me elsewhere – but this is Africa, and I am here to help in whatever capacity is needed. And right now, Africa needs me to dance.