May 25, 2010

A Day at the Races.

After reading tantalizing tales about one of my long favorite spring time traditions in the U.S. - horse racing at Foxfield in Charlottesville, I am pleased to share my stories about a day at the races - Tanzanian style.

The parallels with this charming American tradition were many. People came out dressed in their best UK Royal Ascot horse racing inspired, neo-colonial attire. Striking sun hats were the star of the show. Champagne and other select booze were flowing like the miracle of wine the Wedding at Cana.
The stakes were high with cash prizes ranging from 600,000 Tsh to 2,400,000 Tsh (approximately US$450 to $1750). Amidst the cheers of celebrations and mirth and merriment of the winners' circles, some tears were shed among those with less than favorable results.
The event enjoyed high level sponsorship from the Dar elite, all under the guise of supporting over a dozen small Tanzanian organisations that use these charitably raised monies towards their aims of making significant and sustainable impacts and benefits within the wider communities where they work.
But the one key difference here is that these were not horse races, but rather goat races!
This East African tradition of Goat Racing got its start in Uganda several years ago when some enterprising members of the business community were seeking unique ways to raise money for charity. The theme "Ascot with a Difference" began to take shape. The example of a pig race, held in Zimbabwe in 1991 for the 50th birthday of a well-known horse breeder with insufficient garden space to host a fully-fledged horse race, eventually morphed into the Goat Races. The abundance of goats in East Africa made this animal the perfect choice to model a typical horse race with a special and fun twist. As with horse racing, betting is a central feature of the day. Ten goats compete in each race, with jockeys (behind, infront, beside, under...) needed to bring forth every drop of persuasive skill and mental creativity to cajole their steeds towards the finishing line in a fair and proper manner. Before each race, the goats parade proudly around the ring, giving spectators and betters alike the chance to seek visual signs of genius or winning prowess and augment their chance of winning!


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