London: Beauty pageant, scam, disenchantment

Reading time 4 min.

The beauty pageant was supposed to be the most memorable day of their lives. Yet, for the bevy of beauties gathered here, their dream of becoming beauty queens has turned into a somewhat surreal nightmare. Their anger is legitimate as the ceremony, which is taking place in London, proves itself as a magnificent showcase of unadulterated incompetence on the part of the organisers.

It is 6pm. Aissata is rubbing her hands with a perfumed lotion. She is delicately applying a crimson red lipstick and looking through her pocket mirror. Next to her, the other contestants of Miss Guinea Europe 2010 from various European capitals, are putting finishing touches to their make-ups. Fatou is trying on her dress while Yasmina abandons her hair into the capable hands of an expert hairdresser. There is a lot of hustle and bustle backstage. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of noise, a lot of impatience. There is a lot of self appraisal as well. Tonight, every girl wants to be the most beautiful, but at what price?

Their dreams of sequins, luxury hotels and champagne quickly turned into disenchantment as soon as the girls, aged between 18 and 28, got to London. “we were accommodated an hour away from the event venue. There was no one around to guide us. We were left on our own,” says one of the finalists. Thrown into dilapidated hotel rooms with “worn and leaky ceilings hanging from disrepair”, the contestants found themselves in a frightful situation. “Some of the girls wanted to leave!” says Binta. “Once, we found our bags in front of the hotel because the organisers of the Miss Guinea Europe pageant had not paid for the hotel”, she adds.

It is 8pm. Thierno Diallo, draped in an orange coloured boubou, runs helter-skelter along the hallways of Cumberland hotel. He barks orders, smiles, shakes a hand, and then another… He looks like a very busy man. He has two phones eternally stuck to his earlobes. The 42 year-old Guinean charged with the organisation of the event does not have a single minute to waste or spare, for that matter. He does not seem to notice the angry and confused girls as he journeys up and down the hotel. No hellos. Thierno has his own problems. Big problems.

Abandoned by his main sponsor, Orange, after the September 28 massacres in Conakry, Guinea, Thierno Diallo found himself without a brass farthing to help him organise the event. Yet, this great deception did not stop him from going ahead with the adventure that sought to “honour the dignity of the Guinean woman”. Two days before the event, as a last resort, he took his begging bowl to the Guinean embassy, where he got a loan of around € 6000. “We hope to pay this money back, but between us, it would be preferable if they allow us to keep it”, says Diallo.

Two months ahead of the Miss Guinea Europe pageant, hundreds of Guineans had been butchered at the national stadium by the junta led by an erratic leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara. In tribute to the victims, the organisers observed a minute’s silence. They had also pledged to give part of the profits from the event to two associations, including a foundation for young virgins.

Midnight. “And the winner of Miss Guinea Europe 2010 is… Aissata Souma”, announces Alicia Fall, the event’s presenter, amid a deafening round of applause from the audience. Mobile phones start immortalising Aissata Souma, who looks almost surprised and humbled by her instant but limited fame. The winner who was expected to go home with a € 1500 cheque, a car and a one year beauty care could well kiss her expectations goodbye. “She won’t be getting the car nor the money anytime soon,” whispers Thierno Diallo. It will be difficult to put the € 1500 cheque together for the winner. In fact, Thierno has already gone through to hell and back to pay the two designers who worked on the girls’ outfits: Sadio Bee a Senegalese and Fomia Ouattara a Burkinabe. “I arrived on Thursday from Burkina-Faso. Thierno was to reimburse my expenses, including half of my air ticket, but for now, nothing has been done,” complains the young designer as she hurriedly throws her dresses into her cases.

It is now 2 am. After forty long minutes of travel, the chauffeur of the limousine announces the final stop. In front of Planet Nollywood. “An upscale African nightclub”, says Thierno, I wonder. Located on Camberwell road, this nightclub looks anything but high end. Ah, the bouncer. “This is one of the difficult areas of the capital. Lots of clashes occur here,” he confirms my deepest fears. Whatever. Some of the finalists squeeze themselves into the nightclub, whilst others, worn out after an avalanche of emotions, await their taxis to look for the solace of their beds.

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