Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why do Peace Corps volunteers dress like they're homeless?

Why do all Peace Corps volunteers dress like they are homeless? I have been asked this question a few times; most recently by a middle class, white South African. At the time, i chuckled along with her, recognizing the comment to be based on truth, and then the conversation drifted elsewhere.

I suppose i forgot all about it until a few weeks ago, when i arrived once again in country. This time, however, i am not a volunteer and looked forward to wearing clothes that were a little more fashionable, maybe a little jewelry and occasional makeup. Well, it didn't take long for me to remember why i used to dress like i was a step above homeless- i received so much attention, especially from men. So much negative attention, in fact, that after the fourth day of enduring it, i decided then and there that it was back to frumpville for me. Unless i am to be in the company of a man the entire time i am in town, i now wear t-shirts and scrub pants, a headscarf and no makeup. So far, my plan has worked.

Especially when i first arrived at post, just by nature of my position, i attracted a lot of attention. Not all of it was negative, but coming from the States, i was used to privacy. People do not openly stare, make comments, ask questions or leer at you on a regular basis. Here, that is pretty normal, and could be very overwhelming, especially after a stressful week at school, language barriers or breakdowns in communication, donkeys eating your garden, or whatever the case may be.

Although South African society in general does value sharp dressing, those living in villages often cannot support this lifestyle and thus dress in torn, ripped and ill-fitting clothing. Peace Corps volunteers do not live far above this income bracket, either, on the measley stipend. So, dressing like this, some might say homeless, is a nice way to blend in with our neighbors. It also acts as a theft deterrent. Sort of. We are always targets wherever we go, no matter how we dress, what we have or don't have; firstly because we are white, and secondly because we are American. Truly, having white skin in this country means everyone else thinks you are rich. This is probably another reason for the unwanted sexual attention.

I don't flatter myself to think i am just that attractive that men swarm me like bees do a freshly blooming flower. They think i have money. And really, who doesn't want a sugar mama or daddy? Doing my best to stay under the proverbial radar makes my life, volunteer or civilian, so much easier.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Laws of attraction

One job i used to do but forgot about it until now, was writing love notes in english for young men whose first language is not english. This sounds really silly, but in reality, it is fun. The poems are short, things that translate well via sms and that aren't too deep or personal. It gives me a chance to make up simple rhymes, to play with stanzas and rhyme schemes, really simple literary poetic devices.

I like to write about things that inspire me, and mostly those things are found in nature: birdsong, rain, clouds, wind, you get the idea. Teasing with words stimulates the mind, which is the most erogenous zone, in my opinion. I wonder, though, why people aren't swooning over poets like the used to; or did they used to?

Biologically, i understand a woman choosing a strong, muscley mate so her offspring have a good chance of prospering. But how many of us, living in an enlightened society, are swayed that heavily by biology? I believe my choice was influenced somewhat biologically, but intellectually and emotionally, there is a stronger case. In the villages here among the baTswana, mates are often chosen solely for material possessions. If a man can give a lady money, clothes, airtime or food, he is the one. Bengalis hardly ever marry for love; their spouses are chosen by parents and horoscope chart readers. Among my American friends, however, mate selection is a much more complicated affair.

I know people who married young and either divorced or are still hashing it out. I know many single people, many of whom wish they were not. I also know some happy couples. It seems rare, though, for first marriages or serious relationships to be successful. People don't know what they don't want until they find it. For me, this is the interesting part of life, the trial and error, the why not adventures. They teach you a lot about yourself, as well as helping you figure out what kind of person works best with you. I am glad to come from a society that affords individuals this luxury, and even supports it. Otherwise, how would i have inspiration and experience to write my poems? ;-)