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Party time in Tanzania

Saturday January 27, 2007

Anthea Rowan

Amelia, my eldest daughter and middle child, turns 13 in November.

?Can I have a party?? she wants to know.

?Yes, yes,? I say distractedly. (Well you do, don?t you. For the sake of peace. And because you can?t even think about supper, which is in five hours time, let alone a party in five months.)

?What kind of a party?? she perseveres.

?Oh I don?t know,? I mutter impatiently, ?whatever kind of party 13-year-olds have.?

Stupid, stupid me.

?A sleepover then,? she announces. ?For my whole class.?

I have been rifling through papers on my desk while simultaneously squinting at my computer screen. I have not, to be frank, been paying much attention. Until now. There are 25 children in her class. 25 teenagers of mixed gender, colour and creed.

?Perhaps not a sleepover exactly,? I say, wheedling for time, ?perhaps they could all just come for a barbecue??

?And a disco??

?A disco? A disco!? I squawk, ?couldn?t we just toast marshmallows on the fire and listen to some nice music??

?Oh puh-lease Mum, I?ll be 13 you know.?

I know. I also know that when you?re 13 you want to practise snogging, you want to dance to the kind of music your parents say ?turn the bloody racket down? to and you want to be the ascendant Queen of Cool. You do not want to be remembered forever as having the nerdiest party of the decade by toasting marshmallows and listening to Abba.

But herein lies the conundrum: keeping my daughter happy while not offending the majority of her peers? parents won?t be easy. Many of them are devout Muslims who don?t let their daughters wear spaghetti tops or lip gloss, far less attend sleepovers with a dozen adolescent boys all oozing testosterone.?It?s about exercising some cultural sensitivity,? I say.

My daughter rolls her eyes, ?Yeah right? and then she stalks off crossly. She knows I?m lying. Sort of. Of course my resistance to mixed sleepovers and the opportunity to slink off into the shadows instead of dancing to eardrum piercing rap is partly about exhibiting some sensitivity to the moral expectations and family values of the more than 50% Muslim parents in our school?s community.

It?s also because I hate children?s parties.And within months of either succumbing to, or if I?m really, really canny, sidestepping the proposed sleepover, I shall be obliged to host a birthday party for my youngest daughter. Thankfully she doesn?t want 25 friends to spend the night (?only five,? she confirms sweetly), and she?s not proposing a disco. Instead she wants a fairy party. With a fairy dress. And a pink cake. ?And candles like Jessica had, you know, Mum, the ones which don?t go out when you blow them?. Which means, by the way, that your beautifully-iced cake gets sprayed with saliva as first one child tries in vain to blow out eight determinedly flickering candles and then another 24 join in.

That?s all well and good, and indeed would be relatively easily accomplished if I lived in Surbiton and had a warehouse-sized Tesco at my disposal. But I don?t; I live on a farm in the African bush. Too far from Tesco. But disappointingly ? as far as birthday parties go ? too close to suburbia to get away with not inviting anybody at all. And even if I manage to source fairy party accessories (dress, wand, hairpieces, spit-at-til-you-extinguish-them candles), I know, from past experience, that I will battle to fill obligatory party bags.

Some mothers, proper mothers (the kind of mothers who make lists that they actually remember to take to the supermarket with them so that their shopping expeditions are efficient and purposeful, as opposed to aimless and time-consuming, wondering what it was you came in for) actually remember to stock up on birthday party accessories when they go home on leave. Even if that?s nine months prior to the impending celebration. Invitations to their children?s parties are much sought after for they offer a glorious insight into a world of Walt Disney novelties, sweets from America or metallic gel pens from WH Smith. My children have updated their personal stationery stocks on account of the generosity, and foresight, of such mothers. I, by comparison, usually return from England to find my list (for socks, underwear, school regulation swimming suit and, not surprisingly if a little optimistically, party bag contents) glaring at me from the fridge where I left it.

Which is why I have annual mini nervous breakdowns as I worry, alternately, that my children are either going to be struck from every party list in the region or friends are going to boycott our own because a) the party bag contents are evidently locally sourced or b) they?re hosted in thoroughly bad, morally corrupt, spaghetti-topped, lip-glossed taste.


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