dressing the part
Call it “going local” or call it what you please, but there are certain thing about dressing Cameroonian that can be quite amusing. Having clothes made locally is usually a good way to ensure one can be appropriately attired for work and other events. However, it isn’t always so easy.
Here are a few of my “local’ outfits and how they came to be:
Height of tradition: If you are a woman living/working in the Far North of Cameroon, it is best to cover up if you wish to be respected. This outfit was made with a traditional cut – including the token button in the front of the blouse. It’s a bit of a difficult skirt for walking as it is all the way to the ground, but makes keeping the knees covered while on a moto much easier.
Traditionally fun: Similar to the outfit above, this particular ensemble is made out of the more common “pagne” – a very colourful fabric array of shapes and designs. This is actually one of my favourites. Lightweight, comfortable… and one I would never wear outside of Cameroon for fear of blinding people!
Skirt or pants?: A few weeks into living in Maroua, it seemed like it might be a good idea to have an outfit made that would be appropriate to wear at meetings in a village, but that was also convenient for moto-riding. So I purchased a pagne, brought it to a sweet little seamstress who would make me an outfit consisting of a long shirt with ¾ sleeves and a pair of pants. When the outfit came back, I was rather horrified. The pants were not only lined, but also had the waist 3 inches above my navel and the pant legs narrowed at the bottom. The top was nearly North-American cleavage worthy, while the lower half was more appropriate for 8 to 9 months of pregnancy. Definitely not village or work appropriate!
Last month I brought the horrid outfit to John the tailor. The horrified look on his face said it all. Within a week, he redesigned the outfit, converting the pants into a skirt. The blouse received an entirely new look as well. So much better! Not R&W, Mexx or Esprit level of stylishness, but good enough for here.
The Fertility Dress Fiasco: Not all dressmaking experiences turn out so well (or well enough). A local tailor, Oumarou, begged me to let him make me a dress – the female version of the men’s traditional outfit. I relented after a while and picked out a design from a magazine he had. A few weeks elapsed and the said dress was still not ready. I passed by the shop one day and saw, with great horror, that he had picked a different design. It featured a large heart deco in the centre of the torso, with two flowers embroidered on each sides of the pelvis (i.e. where one’s ovaries might be), with a stem connecting them in the middle. We dubbed it the “fertility dress”.
Needless to say, I refused to accept it. Canadian sensibilities and my own sense of self-preservation wouldn’t allow it. A new dress was to be made. This time, the design was slightly less repulsive. The fit is totally off, the neckline too open for Maroua and, well… I still hate it. This one will stay in the closet until such a time as I can envision some redeeming qualities in it. But I’m not holding my breath.
Mermaid: I fell in love with this fabric at the Sunday market just outside Maroua. And when I say fell in love, I mean drooled over. With the 6 yards, I had anticipated 2 full outfits. But once the first outfit was made, Oumarou the tailor and his buddies professed that there was not one scrap of fabric left to make anything more. Being familiar with sewing myself, I knew better, but there was little I could do. The one outfit, which fellow volunteers said made me look like a mermaid, will just have to be enough for now… until I fall in love once again… and use a better tailor!
Success at last: My luck isn’t all bad though. I’ve recently found a great seamstress in Yaoundé who works wonders with fabric! Unlike the Maroua-wannabes, she even serges the seams so they don’t unravel! My Canada Day dress is her handywork as is this blue hand-dyed beauty.
Let’s not forget about Greg …
Gandora: Greg, a fashionista in his own right, has also gotten into the local dress. His choice, however, was of a more formal kind. He had a full gandora made – complete with the intricate embroidery. The three-piece ensemble is often worn on Fridays or for special occasions; poor Greg though finds it a bit hot under all those layers. Can’t blame him, there’s 10 yards of fabric in there!!!
As much fun as this all is… I miss shopping in stores!!!