BEAUTY PARADE: Portia lines up with the girls

Voice girl Portia Ngwako tries her luck at last week’s auditions in Francistown
Sometimes a person should try new things in life. I mean it’s not every day you get the chance to audition for the Miss Botswana title.
Looking into the mirror it had never before crossed my mind that I should go for the crown as the most beautiful girl in the country. Let’s face it, I’m not everyone’s idea of a beauty queen, but then I believe beauty is more than just a body structure – a beautiful mind is important too.
To be honest it was my editor that suggested I should enter. He was curious to know if the organisers would take the P200 entrance fee from me, or if they would politely tell me to go home. Not very flattering, but I was up for the assignment and began my preparations.
As this was the day before the auditions there was not much I could do about my weight. At 85kgs I am officially in the heavyweight division should I ever wish to take up boxing, so there was no time for a crash diet or extensive gym work – but shopping I can do with the best of them.

My first stop was to get a pair of high heel shoes. I have never owned a pair, and was amazed to discover that getting my rather long and broad size nine plates of meat into the slim fitting receptacles was almost impossible. When I grew up I was a something of a ‘tom boy,’ and when my sisters asked for fashion shoes for presents, I was keener on getting a pair of football boots.

A WORK OF ART: Portia with Nono and Petronella from Stylistics

After visiting a number of shops without luck, I eventually had my Cinderella moment when I came across a rather attractive black pair that more or less fitted. I would go to the ball after all!
After that I had a pleasant time trying on different outfits until I came across the perfect answer, a lady in red evening gown with built in stretch. I squeezed my way into it and was going to ask the friend who had come with me the classic fashion question: “Does my bum look big in this?” But I guess I already knew the answer.

After that I called in at one of the Chinese shops to buy myself a wig and some fashion jewellery, and my Miss Botswana outfit was complete.
On the day of the competition I had an early morning appointment at the up-market Stylistics hair saloon. Their shop is just above our offices at the new Haskins buildings, and the owner Thando had agreed to do a make over free of charge as his contribution towards my mission to become Miss Bots.
He assigned two of his best girls, Nono Ncube on hair, and Petronella Mahara on beauty therapy to do a job on me. The girls worked with enthusiasm intermingled with a few giggles as the transformation process began. I closed my eyes and dreamed of stardom.
It was a long process, but when eventually I was invited to look into the mirror, I was amazed. I hardly recognised myself, and for the first time dared to believe that I just might make it as a beauty queen.

When I arrived at the Thapama Hotel for the auditions, I found a bevy of tall, slim and very beautiful girls. But I had nothing to fear. I felt like a million dollars (US not Zim) and was ready to take on not just Miss Botswana, but to give Miss World a run for her money as well.
I asked the girls if they would mind posing for a picture with me, and they shuffled into line for the iconic shot. “You here for the auditions?” Asked 18-year-old Kamogelo Moseki.
When I told her I was I could see that the group were amazed. I didn’t have to be a mind reader to know that they were all asking the same question, wondering what on earth I was doing there.
Some of my fellow reporters came in and didn’t recognise me at first. I guess they had never seen me in a dress and wig and wearing make up. Eventually one, Boifang took a closer look, and burst out laughing until tears flowed down his cheeks. He was asking people if they had ever seen the movie Big Mama, which I guess from their reciprocal amusement, they had.
Undeterred I joined the queue for the auditions. There were about fifteen of us stranding in a line of nervous tension, waiting our moment to launch ourselves on the unsuspecting public.
When my time came, I walked (or rather tottered in my unfamiliar shoe wear) towards the panel of judges, three ladies and a man. I was happy to find that there was no audience to perform in front of, only a group of cameramen.
They asked me to tell them about myself, my interests, hobbies and what I had come for.
“I am Portia. I am 24-years–old, and I want to be Miss Botswana. During relaxation time I read, listen to music and watch soccer matches. Sometimes I go to the cattle post and enjoy travelling around the country interacting with other Batswana and understanding their way of life.

FACING THE MUSIC: Portia in front of the judges

“I am here to try my luck because I believe I can make it. I believe this is my time to shine and show confidence despite my body structure. I want the opportunity to sell my country to the world.
“We have all benefitted from the country’s diamonds, so I want to do something for my beloved country. It is not all about the prize money, I just want to shine for Botswana.”
It was a short speech, but said with conviction and pride, and in the stunned silence that followed, I could see that they were having difficulty deciding if I was for real.
One of the judges then asked me to dance since I said I liked listening to music. I obliged them with a full-bodied wiggle of my hips, and the silence was broken with gunshots of laughter.
They asked me to parade as if I was on a catwalk, something I had in fact practised in the confines of my bedroom the night before, and demonstrate how I would react if they called and told me I had made it through.
I did a suitable impression of shock and horror, without actually going the whole way and fainting, and again they found it amusing.
Then it was down to business. They asked me to pay P200 for the registration fee (to the subsequent annoyance of my editor) and hand over a passport size photo. Seemingly by way of an afterthought they asked if I had children, was engaged or married. I told them I had no thoughts, or for that matter offers, of marriage or engagement, but did have one kid, a beautiful boy.

When I walked out I bumped into one of the presenters, who also happens to be a friend, Gugu Mavuma. Peering closer he asked: “Portia is that you?”
Then it was my turn to laugh. “Who did you think it was … Miss Botswana?”