Occasionally, I lack the aspiration to update my blog. This sentiment comes not from a desire to withhold information, but rather, an inability to adequately describe the things I see every day. Still, I am in the process of composing a few deeper reflections. Until they are ready to post, however, I would like to keep you, my faithful readers and supporters, entertained.
When I first arrived in Congo, so much seemed so foreign. During the first month I read The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. Brilliant writing. Intensely developed characters. And at times, a train wreck. You know, one of those situations where you can’t seem to look away no matter how painful it is to watch. Despite several harrowing and distressing themes, I marvel at Kingsolver’s ability to paint so accurate a picture using only words. Such amusing depictions somehow managed to lighten the weight of my initial culture-shock. Therefore, since my mind is in a current state of drought, I will allow Kingsolver to relay a bit of Congo on my behalf.
Considering my penchant for fashion, one of my favorite scenes illustrates the absurdity of Congolese couture…
You should see what the Congolese run around in. Children dressed up in the ragbags of American charity or else nothing at all. Color coordination is not a strong point. Grown men and women seem to think a red plaid and a pink floral print are complementary colors. The women wear a sarong made of one fabric, with another big square of a different fabric wrapped over the top of it. Never jeans or trousers–not on your life. Bosoms may wave in the breeze, mind you, but legs must be strictly hidden, top secret.
Women are expected to wear just one style of garment and no other. But the men, now that is a course of a different color. They dress up every different way in the world: some have long shirts made from the same flowery African cloth that is attired by the women. Or they’ll wear a bolt of it draped over one shoulder in the style of Hercules. Others wear American-syle buttoned shirts and shorts in drab, stained colors. A few of the smaller men even go gallivanting around in little undershirts decorated with childish prints, and nobody seems to notice the joke.
As for the accessories, I hardly know where to begin. Sandals made of car tires are popular. So are antique wing tips curling up at the toes, black rubber galoshes unbuckled and flapping open, or bright pink plastic thongs, or bare feet–any of these can go with the aforementioned outfits. Sunglasses, plain glasses, hats, no hats, likewise. Perhaps even a knit woolen cap with a ball on top, or a woman’s bright yellow beret–I have witnessed all these wonders and more. The attitude toward clothing seems to be: if you have it, why not wear it? Some men go about their daily business prepared for the unexpected tropical snowstorm, it seems, while others wear shockingly little–a pair of shorts only. When you look around, it appears that every man here was fixing to go to a different party and then suddenly they all got plunked here together.
As always, thanks for reading. More personal updates will follow shortly…