Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fog and Mrs. Brown

I woke up to a beautiful fog-covered morning this week. I’m always surprised to see fog in South Africa, particularly in a semi-desert setting. Isn’t it beautiful? I’m told that the fog is more common in places like KwaZulu Natal and Nelspruit. I’m glad we have it here, especially if it is uncommon.

Years ago when I was worried about my personal appearance and whether or not it was pleasing to others, I spent a great deal of time and energy shopping for smart outfits, growing my fingernails, tanning religiously in the sun, wearing the sharpest of shoes, and endlessly fussing with hair and make up.

All of my efforts earned me a decade’s worth of painful—very painful--relationships.

When I divorced in the early 90s, I cut my hair, bought sensible shoes, and threw away my make up. To hell with men, I was going to be comfortable and free of all of that endless fussing.

I was almost 30 years old and had wasted almost 15 years of my life trying to look pleasing to others. What a waste of time.

In the late 90s, I discovered, much to my horror, that if I wanted to be healthy, I would need to stop eating of chocolate. Now, I know most of you in the female persuasion will appreciate how devastating this news was for me. After an extended mourning period (probably a couple of years), I remember falling in love with the color “chocolate brown.” I remember thinking, “If I can’t EAT chocolate, then I will wear it.

So, it was at this time that my wardrobe began to “turn brown.” I was somewhat thrilled with this exercise too, as I learned that if I bought any clothing item with the color of chocolate brown in it, it would match anything else in my wardrobe. My life became simpler still.

Now, I’ve been existing in my “chocolate brown” happiness for several years now and no one ever commented about it in the US. No one. NO ONE.

So, now I’m in South Africa, people seem to be stuck on the fact that, well, “Why do you always wear the color brown?”

I get this question almost every day and almost everywhere I go. The college girls have taken to calling me “Mrs. Brown.” Even the Peace Corps volunteers seem to notice this about me and comment upon it.

We were warned about the attitudes for personal appearance before coming to South Africa. In this culture, how you dress reflects respect to those around you. Perhaps my wearing brown every day is disrespectful some how?

When asked the question of why I am (always) wearing brown, I’m not ever sure how to respond. I could say, “In coming to South Africa, we all brought 2 pairs of pants, a skirt, and three blouses and these are all the clothes that I have”; or, I could say, “We’re not paid so we can’t spend money on fancy clothes, jewelry, and stilettos.”

What I usually say, and is absolutely true, is “Brown is my favorite color and I love it.”

This response is never satisfactorily received by those to whom I say it. They often turn away with an expression that seems to indicate that I’ve said, “I wear brown because it will make my face grow horns.”

What I’m DYING to say, although my upbringing and manners would never permit it, is, “Why are you so shallow to care about what I’m wearing? Shouldn’t you be more concerned about the education of the youth of South Africa? How about the HIV/AIDS crisis? How about the fact that I passed twenty people on my way to school today that had nothing to eat? How about it’s none of your business what I’m wearing? Hey, how about worrying about YOUR OWN personal appearance?”

On most days I smile and say brown is my favorite color and on some days, I want to pop peoples’ heads off.

I remember some years back that the rock singer Jon Bon Jovi cut his hair. The media went ballistic (of course) and according to the media, the whole nation was in deep morning that Jon Bon Jovi could so such a selfish thing as have his long, beautiful hair cut. I remember reading about Mr. Bon Jovi’s reaction and noted that he was incredulous that people could actually be so concerned about whether or not he cut his hair. I think I know exactly how he felt.

I try to remind myself that it is all silly nonsense and go on with my chocolate-brown happiness. I take some consolation in the fact, so I’ve read, that Einstein couldn’t be bothered with fashion either and kept in his closet the seven suits that were exactly the same style and color. Hmm, seems I remember reading that they all were brown. :-)

Soon, Karen

PS.  I just returned from a memorial service given in honor of a student of the college who died over the weekend.  I arrived late to the service because I was told the service would be at "half past two." Now, in the States, "half past two" would mean 2:30.  Here, apparently it means 1:45.  :-)

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Good thing you were raised right, for them anyway. I do think I would have to ask them why that is important, just so they'd maybe examine it for themselves. They might start to leave you alone about it.