I am from the Coast. So I did not know much about warm beddings when I was growing up. Blankets were a foreign concept simply because it would get so hot, I had heat rash all over my back.
I also remember having nightmares so bad that I would cling to my bed sheet so tight in the heat of the night, that the sweat off my skin would dampen it, and form a dark map on the white wall against my bed. I remember my dad sitting me down one day, after numerous troubled nights, to find out what troubled me. I didn’t know either. So he taught me to always say a prayer whenever I faced a nightmare. Back then, being raised Catholic by my mum, I didn’t know much about prayers except for The Lord’s Prayer, besides bits of the Hail Mary. So I hang on to the memory of the former and went to town on the character of the next tormenting dream I faced. It changed my life. My disturbed nights gradually disappeared. Thank you, Dad and Mum.
Since then I’ve been an aunty to many, through family and friends, in several cities and towns with different climates, including Nairobi, which is a lot cooler than my hometown. And so I recently got acquainted to the concept of a ‘blankie’. Allow me to educate those like me.
A blankie is regular minnie blanket to which a child gradually develops an attachment. It becomes special by familiarity, and brings a sense of calm and security to the child, wadding off many a bad dream, allowing the child to settle down and sleep a lot easier. The blankie can be dragged on dirt and gravel as the child moves around the home before sleep time but it still ends up in bed with them. I used to wonder at such forbearance by parents, until I realized that yanking the blankie away while the child is awake generally works against everyone’s best interest, so a lot more creativity is needed to get it to the washers, which is mostly while the child sleeps. By and by, a healthy child learns to let go.
But I – a child of the humid East African Coast – am walking around campus today, in the heat of September, dreading anything with sleeves, and what do I see? Grown men and women layered up for winter. My back prickles with sweat at such sights. I don’t get it. But then again I do.
We are battling the same demons; the same demons of insecurity.
Being sworn followers of trends from outside our own climatic zones we have no choice but to cling to heavy laden drapery. We feel less smart, inadequate, inappropriate if we don’t. We have no clue how to dress for East African weather. We think Rihanna’s mink makes her look chic and confident, so we adopt a close enough look.
It’s funny. Many times, as in campuses like my own that claim to uphold a faith, discussions to do with clothing are mainly manufactured to address (and many times, to accuse and attack) the woman in the name of a quest for decency. But I see men – students, lecturers, religious leaders – in jackets, and suits, and sweaters and wooly hats … Seriously. What are we trying to do to ourselves? Bake? Pouched potato, somebody? How is this ‘decent’? Looks a lot more like circus to me.
What is this sense of security and importance we get by over clothing ourselves? Who taught us that there is no other way to be dapper than by layers of sweat? What demons are we fighting, what insecurities, as we walk the streets, work in our offices, as we sit in our classes in the heat of the day? Who took and ran away with our confidence, our identity, our glory, that we need to cover ourselves as much as possible? Remember Adam and Eve, and the fig leaves?
I think our minds are still enslaved by the ‘good people’ who brought us scripture. They were good folk (…well…) but were mostly live representations of their governments, their cities, their climates and their cultures, which is how colonialism mostly works. The whole genius behind colonialism depends widely on the success of the colonialist in engrafting the foreign government in the land, beliefs and minds of the colonized. Whereas they carried life – the Message, i.e. The Gospel – they – the vessels – became accessories to the greatest atrocities to ever be recorded in the world, and maimed us.
This is not meant to be yet another blog post that seeks to bash the colonist of old – although the subject is at the heart of the matter and should be pointed out – but a signpost that we are still lost.
Just as with our hair, if we own ourselves, and the wealth, and fruit, and condition that Africa is and all that which she gifts us, we would grow in fashion, in trends, in textile industries, in hair and beauty products – multi-billion dollar industries. We would learn better what to assimilate, what not to, how to make our own attributes and treasures work to our own advantage. We would live better. We would celebrate more. We would be more efficient in our duties, in jobs, in our relationships. Why? Because we would know who we are, and we would love ourselves, and we would accept ourselves, which would make accepting those among us easier. We would eat better and live better. We would be financing instead of being constantly financed. We would love more and fight less. We would cure our own illnesses and innovate our own technology. We would have more to give and less to borrow. And most of all, we would be happy – a lot happier on many fronts.
When we own our stuff, we are able to practice and become more creative, gaining expertise, allowing us to determine once and for all what is decent enough and what is appropriate, what works best for our worship places, and work places and schools. A lot more progress would be made by focusing our efforts on understanding what makes us tick, and how to mould resources to our own convenience, than to yell at the female youth, expecting them to dress like Magerate Thatcher (RIP). Is it not ridiculous, even funny? Even Obama rolls up his sleeves in the White House, of course for his own convenience, whether or not to sway a vote. And that’s just the point.
That’s the Africa I dream of. I know, it may come well down the road. I try to be realist. I realise most of these things may take a while. We agree, though, that they are doable. So first things first, could you please take off your sweater?
Image from cache.lionbrand.com