Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Thoughts on clothing from the bus

The polyester leisure suit is alive and well in Tanzania. Well maybe thread worn and stained, but holding it's own among the more well to do in the rural population at least. On the bus to Kondoa our conductor looks dignified and official in his faded lime green affair. Numerous older men step on, wedging themselves in deeper, immaculately dressed in matching jacket and trousers. Any wonder? The dust and dirt here is enough to get a Maytag salesman drooling. Too bad electricity is in such short supply although they've put up the power poles into the village (Mnenia) recently...

The women seem committed to the maximum visual effect, colourful kangas and kitenges draped over their shoulders, covering their hair and of course in layers as skirts. The one exception to my generalized observation would be the Maasai. The men mostly (we only occasionally see the women) dress in layers of shukas, brightly patterned woven fabric in plaids of  blue and red, green and yellow and flourescent orange and red...(yes!) or all of the above, together. Which cannot  begin to describe what it looks like.  

These Maasai herdsmen stand at the side of the road, seemingly miles from anywhere in blue and red plaids with their ever present staff/stick/cane, watching their livestock eke out some sustenance from the (what looks like) non existent vegetation. But this year is an initiation year and many of those young herdsmen are dressed in black. Completely in black, every item of clothing black. Except their faces, white foreheads with various permutations of design and expression on the cheeks in white face paint, ash likely or flour. A few have ostrich feathers shooting up from behind their heads, black of course. As we drive by they stare more intently than I dare to. Out of respect for their process I took no pictures.

Meanwhile in the cities their elder brothers walk up and down the streets, cell phone in hand decked out in colours many women would be challenged wearing.  On their feet the famous Maasai sandal; a chunk of motorcycle tire with a piece coming up between the toes; a beaded fringe waving saucily in the air. Although the ubiquitous running shoe/sneaker/training shoe  (I'll name no brands) seems to be making inroads, pardon the pun.

Back on the bus in rural Tanzania, if you can get a seat, there will likely be someone sitting beside you. If a woman,  she'll be constantly fiddling with her head scarf, tucking it here, pulling it out there, occasionally disappearing from view. Possibly to sleep or at least avoid any eye contact with this heathen infidel. The men are usually more friendly, their suits staining sweat right through to their jackets. Asking in their best English where I'm from and for how long, and expressing incredulous surprise at where I'm living.  Almost every man wears the Islamic hat called taqiyah or kofia. Occasionally a ball cap and rarely a fedora. 

 The availability of western clothing is remarkable (at least to my naive mind) For 10,000 Tanzanian shillings one can purchase a bale of clothing, jam packed into a metric cube that when opened -stand back!- will overwhelm one with such a variety of shirts, pants and underwear to possibly jade one forever from ever wanting to wear the stuff. T-shirts with every imaginable slogan, endorsement or "witty" saying, adorning folks who have no English,  no idea what it says. Cheap though, thanks to the folks who donated these dated, discarded derelicts of a disintegrating culture to the land of all our ancestors.

 This is globalization in action,  the few folks  still wearing traditional clothing fast becoming anomalies in a rapidly moving, corporate driven, pathological push towards  uniformity.

 No thanks! I had  a shuka made into a shirt and a kanga into pants. Bring on creative dressups!

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