Wednesday, July 30, 2014

going native

{Digging up a laugh from the archives four years ago, after our first year living in this village...}

Take a good long look. Make sure you catch the whole ensemble, including the blue long-underwear and fleece-lined crocs… this is the new me. 

I have finally arrived. 

I am officially enculturated. (Is that a word?)

The backstory: On Monday, my new house helper asked me why I wear “real clothes” (meaning a long skirt or pants and blouse) around the house every day.  Local women here wear housedresses pretty much all the time, made of light cotton in the summer and velour in the winter. They only put on “real clothes” if they’re going “out”, and walking up the street to the local shop doesn’t count.  My helper wears the same black and green striped housedress every time she comes to our house to clean (I wonder how often it gets washed…)

Anyway, I made the lame excuse that I haven’t had time to get any clothes here, so I’ve just been wearing the clothes I brought from home. 

(Which is sort of true—we’ve only been to the big city once since getting back, and we steered clear of the humongous bazaar where they sell local items like housedresses. The rest of the truth is that to be honest, I've had zero inclination to buy a housedress—I didn't think I’d be brave enough to wear it outside the house, and I didn’t want to have to change my clothes every time I popped out to the shop… plus housedresses in general are not very attractive, in my opinion.)

SO, since my wardrobe was obviously sadly lacking, and my helper’s latest project is collecting items from the big city bazaar to resell out of her house, she helpfully offered to pick up a housedress for me and sell it to me at cost. 

How could I refuse? 

Plus, I thought, I do want to fit in here, and if it looks weird to them for me to be wearing my nice clothes all the time, then I don’t mind “going native.”

“What color do you want?” she asked.

“Oh, I dunno—blue, I guess? But it doesn’t really matter…” 

Shouldn’t have added that last bit.

She was planning to go into the city to get more stock the next day, and I invite her to stop by our house for dinner since I knew she wouldn’t have time to cook. At 7pm she knocks at the door at 7pm, and sits down at my table to try spaghetti (which she liked, by the way).  

After a few bites, she says, “Wait til you see what I got for you—they didn’t have any blue, but I think you’ll like this.” She grabs her shopping bag and pulls out—well, an animal skin

I just burst out laughing.  

“Try it on, try it on!” she says, enthusiastically. “I told them you were my size but a lot taller… see if it fits!” 


What the heck, I thought, why not?  Laughing the whole time, I strip to my long underwear right there in the kitchen and zip the thing up to my neck. 

“It really suits you!” she’s exclaiming. “It came to the ground on me—it’s just the right length for you! But you need to unzip it a little—“ and she pulls the zip halfway down my chest—“there, it looks great!” 

I look like Eve walking out of the garden, but I hear myself say, “Yeah, wow, and it’s so comfortable!” And before I can stop myself, I add, “I could wear this every day! Look, it even has a couple pockets…” and she chimes in, “Yeah, and the zipper is great for breastfeeding—you just—“ and she pantomimes—“zip it down, and there you go!” 

I can’t stop laughing. 

I prance into the next room to show James, and his face registers “Shock-horror!” before making a few polite noises… I laugh even harder.  I go back and pull out money to pay her, thanking her the whole the time.  

As she’s going out the door she finishes with, “I like it so much—I’m getting one for myself the next time I go! Then we can match!” 

Oh my goodness.

Still giggling, I go back to James, strike a pose, and ask him what he really thinks. He just gives me this look that says it all. I die. 

Then I go find Will (then about 2 1/2): “Will, how do you like Mommy’s new dress?” A slow smile breaks over his face. “Mommy—angel!” he says with awe. And then “ ‘Pots! (spots)” he says, poking curiously at them. 

Laughing so hard, I have to go to the bathroom before I pee my pants, and while I’m sitting there catching my breath, I think, Could it get any better than this?

I wore my new duds all day yesterday and today too, and actually, if you can get past the dead animal look, it’s a very functional garment. It’s 80% cotton, washes well, has pockets for cell phone and chapstick, and is actually very convenient for breastfeeding… 

And even though I look ridiculous, every time I put it on I will think of my sweet helper and how much she needs to know Jesus.

Don't miss the huge black leather gumboots... I think they make the outfit.

P.S. Today I actually got up the guts to wear it out to the corner shop. The ladies who run the shop are all my friends, and I wanted to see their reaction. They loved it. “Oh, it looks so good on you! You shouldn’t wear those long skirts all the time—you’re so tall, you should show off your legs! You look like a model!” (which is the same word in every language) 

Well. How can I possibly argue with that?


  1. THat is the best story ever. YOu look great. And are totally loving these women by wearing that outfit. I remember how freeing it was to live in a culture where one was supposed to wear socks with could I ever feel self-conscious about my looks in a place like that!

  2. Oh, this kills me! I can't believe your husband lets you wear it around the house. Just hilarious.

  3. Well, I prefer zebra prints but tiger looks good on you!! Thanks for some much needed extended laugher as I read your story... I actually like it on you, Carolyn -the color is perfect with your features! :-)