I’m not into fashion. I don’t follow “rag trade” gossip. I have a somewhat fantastic collection of shoes in America, but if I rammed it all down the choo [pit latrine] tomorrow, I could probably replace everything from Target for less than $150 total. I lack both the sartorial acumen that would prevent me from wearing a black skirt with a navy sweater and the couture fashionista panache that would allow me to pull it off anyway. I can’t pose worth a damn. I don’t even particularly like being photographed.

But I *do* love bold East African fabrics, and as I strove to be both comfortable and culturally appropriate, I managed to accumulate a wardrobe full of awesome. So much, in fact, it’s been tricky to figure out what can come home with me.

After I finish Peace Corps, I’m taking a rather lengthy trip on my way back to the States – roughly 7 weeks and 14 countries’ worth – so my packing is necessarily limited. I’ll have a backpack with me, and so far my inclusion list for that is “toothbrush, comb, Kindle, five days of clean clothes, passports.” A PC friend who’s returning much earlier than I generously offered to carry a bag of sentimental stuff and gifts for me, but even with a whole wheelie-duffel at my disposal, it made for some difficult choices. For all my shrewd toughness, I’m a little more sentimental than I ought to be sometimes. Even if I *don’t* form an emotional attachment to every kanga I throw on over pajama bottoms so I’m decent enough to walk half a kilometer to the duka and buy cooking oil, or every kikoi wound hastily around my hips so I can step out of the house to toss kitchen scraps to my neighbor’s free-roaming ducks … oi. There are flowing long gowns with bright patterns in the Swahili style, snug mermaid skirts and fluffy-sleeved blouses based on Giriama patterns, and at least 5 “fusion” outfits in which my fundi [tailor] and I worked together to take a garment from a Target catalog (or similar American source) and make it appropriate for Kenya. I feel ridiculous in some of them, even now, but each is infused with memories.

The dress below is one of the last things my fundi, Dama, sewed for me. (I’ve already inflicted my “sense” of “style” on my fine Facebook friends, so I may as well post it here now.) I like it so much that I didn’t pack it up in my “Send Home” bag, but am instead bringing it with me on my adventure across the world. The skirt is a modest “midi length” (high calf) and the scandal of bare shoulders/back created by the halter design can be readily neutralized by any item from my embarrassingly large collection of scarves/shawls/wraps. Earrings: brass spirals. Shoes: black braided leather. Necklace: Many strands of tiny beads. In other words … all traditional accessories. The fabric of the dress is from Mombasa, and the style, well … the internet. But I get cultural integration points for the rest, maybe?



I will wear this – and the other stuff – in America, and give approximately zero rats’ asses about the stares I’ll get (I already get intensely stared at all day every day for merely Existing While White, so what’s the difference?) I like them. I’ll never be the most fashionable, Vogue Magazine-pinup-ish lady on the block. But at least this time, I will have an interesting excuse.

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