Sorry, but Scott and I have had enough. We're still in therapy over last year's nightmarish Groundsheep Day misadventure, not to mention the fact that fifteen governments have outstanding warrants for Shearson's arrest. (He keeps eating the process servers from Interpol whenever they knock on our door, but that's not going to work forever.) The bottom line is that we needed a break from the holiday. A lo-o-ong break. Thus, a few weeks ago, we decided to take a more, ah, proactive approach to Groundsheep Day...
Just at that moment, however, the phone rang. It was a trans-Atlantic, person-to-ovine call for Mr. Shearson Lehman Mutton from...Senegal? That's strange – we don't remember trashing any sub-Saharan countries last February, but in all the confusion I suppose it was possible. Shearson accepted the call, while Scott and I tried to listen in...not that eavesdropping was easy in this case, considering that one party was speaking French and the other Sheep.
Well this was interesting: Shearson was being invited to take part in a televised talent competition. And not just any competition – this was Khar Bii, the most popular show in all of Senegal!
Now, I know you and other readers probably think that Scott and I make a lot of stuff up during these annual Groundsheep Day stories, but let us assure you that, if nothing else, Khar Bii is for real. It means "This Sheep" in the local dialect and it's a West African sensation that's in its fifth season. Sheep are very popular as pets there, and Khar Bii is...honest to goodness...an American Idol-style TV series that each year searches for the handsomest ram in Senegal. It begins with auditions at the grass roots level (no pun intended) and culminates in a national finals among the local and regional winners. Imagine Simon Cowell hosting a gigantic 4H fair. Or don't. It's too disturbing.
Anyway, for their fifth anniversary in 2013, the show's producers decided to stage a Celebrity Khar Bii, in which they'd invite famous sheep from across the globe to compete against the locals. Who knew there was such a thing as famous sheep? But Shearson, it seems, was on their short list. The lady on the phone said that the pageant would be held on February 2nd in the capital city of Dakar, and it would honor them deeply if the world-famous groundsheep would attend.
Well, how bad could this be, we thought? It sounded harmless, Senegal is a nice place, and it would get Shearson safely out of the country on Groundsheep Day and away from all those pesky annual restraining orders. Besides, maybe he'd win and they'd invite him to stay. Which left Scott and I with one dilemma: how the heck do you prepare a stuffed sheep for a beauty contest? Particularly one as well-worn as Shearson?
So we hit the Internet and looked up the ground rules for Khar Bii. Turns out they grade the rams on numerous stringent criteria. The sheep need to be well-fed and healthy. They're examined inside and out by professional veterinarians, right down to their body temperatures. They're also judged on their appearance, including the quality of their fleece and the symmetry of their horns, noses, and...(*gulp*)...testicles. Um, okay, moving right along. Even their posture is judged exactingly during a parade of finalists. The Senegalese, as one news account puts it, are serious about their sheep.
We decided to take a two-pronged approach. Scott, the swimmer, would act as Shearson's personal trainer, whipping the groundsheep into shape after 20-plus years of doing little more than sitting on my bookshelf gathering dust. Meanwhile, I'd handle the whole Eliza Doolittle charm-school process, transforming Shearson from an uncouth glutton into the epitome of genteel, aristocratic ovinity.
Scott started by taking Shearson out to the local track for a few laps of high-aerobic roadwork.
This was not a success.
As for the beauty regimen...well, I figured we might as well start with a shampoo and a combination sauna/massage.
After that came the full spa treatment:
As for some of the physical qualifications: Shearson's nose seemed to be pretty much in proportion, and there was no way, no how, that I was checking the symmetry of his family jewels. Horns, however, were a head-scratcher, inasmuch as the groundsheep doesn't have any. I tried fitting him with a pair of loaners from our Christmas tree, hoping that maybe the Senegalese wouldn't notice, but he just ate them.
Meanwhile, on the Scott front, the exercise program wasn't going as smoothly as we'd hoped....
One Khar Bii criteria that had us rather concerned was the one about the candidate needing to have a healthy metabolism. We checked several veterinary websites, and it turns out there's really only one way to take a sheep's temperature. Scott and I drew straws, and I lost...
As you might expect, it didn't end well.
But despite these occasional setbacks, after weeks of intense training we're happy to report that we'd whipped Shearson into the best shape of his life!
Before we knew it, the big day had arrived. Scott and I got passports, bought airline tickets, and soon we were boarding our nonstop flight to Dakar. We were running really late and just made it to gate A25 on time!:
We spent the flight the way we typically do – I slept, Scott played games on his phone, and Shearson ate the beverage cart. Several hours later, we were on the ground in Senegal. We hopped in a cab and headed to the city center. Along the way, I cautioned Scott that we were in a developing African country so he shouldn't expect the sort of modern metropolises that we Americans are used to.
It took a while for me to explain to the cab driver where we were headed. This was a challenge – I took only two years of French in high school, and all I really remember is "Je ne parle pas Français" and "Fermez la vache" , neither of which was terribly helpful here. I tried "Nous recherchons pour les moutons" but all I got from him was a funny look. Then I tried "Les livestock?" and he replied what sure sounded a lot like "You mean the beefcake, bub? Gotcha!", which I hoped indicated comprehension in his native tongue.
He dropped us off an authentic, rustic African inn.
We ran inside and followed the many signs directing visitors to the "Pageant". The three of us got to the main theater just as Khar Bii was getting underway. Shearson grabbed a name tag and took his place among the opening parade of competitors:
Holy crap! Senegal sure has some, uh, funny-looking sheep. And the locals keep these things as pets? Well, er, not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose. They certainly do seem well-fed and healthy, though for the life of me, I just can't see them producing much wool.
Khar Bii soon moved to the talent competition. It seemed as though most of the trainers elected to show off their rams' strength:
When it was Shearson's turn, Scott and I figured he was toast. He's pretty small after all, and brute physical strength just isn't his strong suit.
But not to worry, because the ever-resourceful groundsheep figured out a solution in his own inimitable way.
Next on the program was simply "measurements." Sorry, but after recalling what parts of the ovine anatomy Khar Bii measures, there was no way I was letting Scott watch this part...and vice versa.
Then came an interview segment, which we weren't expecting. I mean, really, who interviews sheep? Anyway, they brought in some famous Senegalese talk-show host for the job. Shearson did really well, notwithstanding the fact that nobody in the place had any clue what the heck he was saying. It turns out that was fortunate – Scott said afterwards that Shearson recited, verbatim, Miss South Carolina's spiel from the 2007 Miss Teen USA pageant.
In the end, Shearson didn't win. However, he was voted "Mr. Congeniality" by his peers, which was a nice honor. He even had his picture taken with the pageant CEO. I didn't catch his name, but he looks awfully familiar, and I hear he's one of the most successful businessmen in the city:
Oh yeah, Tom, before I forget: Scott and I have great news. While he was enjoying all the fun and glamour of Khar Bii, the groundsheep never saw his shadow! So, we can expect an early spring this year. Afterwards, we hung around the city a bit to enjoy the local hospitality and take in some of the nightlife. I really can't go into details, though. The Senegalese have a saying: what happens in Dakar stays in Dakar. Take care, and we'll see you soon.
Nick, Scott, and Shearson
Photography by [REDACTED - Elder son wishes not to be named] and [REDACTED - Wife threatened immense bodily harm if we even thought about crediting her.]