7 April 2012
I went to the secondhand clothing market yesterday with Mama Dora. It’s huge! It just goes on and on, tables and tables of piles of clothes sent by Goodwill. Each stand sells a certain thing, so there will be ones with children’s clothes, ones with skirts, ones with men’s shirts, ones with bras, etc etc. It’s really fun – digging through a pile, never knowing what treasure you might unearth. And it’s cheap, which makes it more fun too. I ended up getting three dresses for the equivalent of about $15 total – I kind of figured, why not, for that price? I wanted more dresses, and I had a genuine Tanzanian’s endorsement that they were appropriate (as far as length and amount of shoulder shown).
This is something white women here struggle with – what’s appropriate clothing. Well, I should say some don’t appear to struggle with it at all, and just dress like this is Miami, but I think people who actually live here have to think about it. Skirts, dresses, and shorts above the knee are out, no question, but what about the shoulders? Very few Tanzanian women expose their shoulders. Almost all of them of any age wear at least short sleeves. There’s leeway for foreigners, but you don’t want to take is so far as to flaunt local standards of modesty – but where’s the line? I’ve had this discussion with other white women here, and it’s tough to figure out. And you have to take into account where you are. What I can wear in town is different than what I can wear in the village. And so when I wear my jeans, which are quite fitted, I wrap a folded in half kanga around my waist till I get to town. The dresses I bought all have thin straps. But they also have a straight neckline, no plunging between the breasts, and all are knee-length. I would have thought that more shoulder coverage would be appropriate, but perhaps this is where the overlap between cultural sensitivity and wiggle-room for foreigners lies. Only the occasional young single Tanzanian woman would wear these dresses, but it’s perfectly ok for me. So even though you don’t see many Tanzanian women wearing them, a Tanzanian woman (Mama Dora) says it’s ok for me to do so. Good to know.