Monday, May 10, 2010

Tailor made= A+grade

Before moving to Mali in July 2008 and beginning my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer I had a number of questions that plagued my preparations.  What will I eat in country? What language will I speak?  What work will I do? But the question that gave me the most cause for pause was the 80 pound weight limit on baggage and what I could/should pack and what would be left behind.  Moving to a predominately Muslim country in the Sahel I was concerned about dressing modestly while staying cool and comfortable.  I searched the racks of outdoor stores, thrift shops and friends' closets for linen tops, hardy capris and long skirts that could handle the wear and tear of two years roughing it in a West African country.  Almost two years later, most of the clothes I stuffed into space-saving zip-lock bags and squeezed into my two suitcases are tattered and on their last thread or forgotten on racks in my house, hanging under bolts of Malian fabric. 

After a month or so in country we were let out of our training site on the outskirts of Bamako and into the city and I saw that my REI wardrobe was woefully sub-par and even inappropriate.  While I had been concerned with sun protection and comfort I should have been more prepared to embrace Malian culture through clothes because of Malians high value on appearances.  Now I  cringe at the same outfits I religiously rolled and tucked into my bags and also the short shorts, midriff baring tops and safari outfits of toubabs seen in bigger cities.  It's not because I think their outfits are bad (from a Western perspective) but because they demonstrate such a blatant disregard for the high esteem Malians place on appearance. 

And so, in honor of Mother's Day and all the stylish moms in my life, I have made a 6 step plan (see below) for anyone planning to visit Mali.  Wear a nice outfit on the plane and then get yourself to 'sugu-ba' (big market) ASAP and get ready to rake in the compliments and feel at least a degree less foreign!  I kenne ka koro!
Step 1: An occasion! Annie's brother and his wife with their newly baptized baby girl

Step 2: Pick out your fabric - this is the San fabric for a fish festival in June 
 
Amadou Niangué, a fabric seller in San who always gives us a few CFA off the final price :)

Step 3: Visit tailor Mom hems one of the napkins we got made - Abu got a real kick out of seeing her at the sewing machine


Step 6: Our special occasion outfits - this is the uniform for a village wedding 


To re-cap
1. Determine the occasion for your outfit
2. Purchase at least 3 'tafés' of fabric in market (anywhere from 3,500 CFA - 12,000 CFA = $7-$24 USD)
3. Decide on the 'modèle' with your tailor with the aid of his/her photo album of outfits
4. Talk about style ad nauseum with said tailor to make sure you both understand what you want
5. Pick up outfit 1-2 weeks later and get alterations
6. Celebrate and/or walk around town relishing in the compliments from Malians and toubabs alike! 
 
See pictures from April in Mali here

1 comment:

Radka said...

Good day. You have a nice blog and photos I like. Have a nice day Radka.

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