Archive for the ‘Clothing’ Category

Aesthetic Sense

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

I think my aesthetic sense might be broken.

I’ve always known I’m a bit different. And my understanding of and appreciation of beauty has always been an obvious point of difference.

So I think my aesthetic sense might be broken.

It’s not completely broken. I can look at many things that other people wow over and I can wow over them too. I agree that many famous people are beautiful/handsome/attractive/whatever. I’ve seen some incredible pictures of landscapes, flowers, animals, corals, constellations, etc and thought they were beautiful. I think a frosted spider’s web early on an autumn morning is breath-takingly beautiful. And don’t even get me started on Edinburgh, or Sri Lanka, or Australia, or Luxembourg, or Tibet, or Nepal, or Cambridge, or the Peak District, etc.

But being in Sri Lanka has brought my aesthetic sense into question. The word ‘lasanai’ means beautiful. And it is one of the most used words in Sinhala. As a result, ‘beautiful’ is an English word that one hears a lot in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan’s care about aesthetics. They, as a nation, seem to have a well-developed aesthetic sense.

And the more time I spend with them, the more I realise that mine is broken.

They look at pictures of Sri Lankan brides (I’m mostly talking about Sinhalese women who go for a traditional Kandyan style wedding) and go all gooey. They all say ‘lasanai’ and draw out the s-sound to really emphasize it. And I smile and usually say ‘lasanai’. Sometimes I’m more honest: ‘wow, all that jewellery must weigh a lot’, ‘zykes, doesn’t it take a long time to get their hair done like that?’, etc. To be perfectly honest, I don’t find the wedding outfits aesthetically pleasing at all. I think the make-up is over-done. The jewellery is ridiculous and completely overwhelms the poor thing underneath. I think that Kandyan style saris do nothing whatsoever to beautify women (a few friends who have seen photos have asked me if one of the purposes of the Kandyan sari is to make women look ugly – I tend to agree). The sari jackets are tight and the gap between the bottom of the sari jacket and the waist is big enough to ensure that a roll of fat is visible, in even the thinnest woman. This seems to be desirable. I don’t find it pleasing. Now, this is ok. These women are not getting dressed in order to please me. It doesn’t matter that I don’t think it looks nice. They seem to think they look beautiful and other Sri Lankans seem to and surely that’s the point. My point is simply that I don’t find it attractive, and everyone else seems to.

Jewellery generally is something I just don’t get. I have no desire to wear it (mostly from a pragmatic point of view). I find some of it pretty, usually the simple, symmetric stuff. But I look at most of it and think that it looks gaudy or ridiculous or hideous.

I don’t understand Sinhalese (and Hindi) music. The women all seem to sing about an octave higher than their voices (and my ears) can comfortably cope with. So to me it sounds very screechy.

I’ve seen Kandyan dancing. And lots of people really love Kandyan dancing. On the whole I think it is somewhat ridiculous. I don’t find the movements beautiful. I understand that some of them are technically difficult and some of the execution of these difficult manoeuvres seems to be very well done. Though, some of it seems not so. But in any case I just don’t see why people would put their bodies into those positions since they don’t seem to me to very nice. (I have the same attitude to ballet). Perhaps I just don’t understand the symbolism of the work. This isn’t to say that I find all dance unappealing. I’ve seen some amazing contemporary dance that I thought was wonderful (though some of that also looks ridiculous). I think that a lot of the dancing that Madonna and some of her dancers do is wonderful. I find some ballroom/rock and roll/swing/etc dancing to be very nice too. I like watching ice dancing during the Olympics because I find some of that really beautiful.

So I don’t think my aesthetic sense is completely broken. But I do think it is broken.

Clothing. Oh dear. Clothing. Again, a lot of what people see as beautiful, I see as hideous, impractical, asymmetrical (in an non-pleasing way), chaotic, cluttered, garish. People (other volunteers and locals and my friends who see pictures) look at saris that various teachers wear in Sri Lanka and comment on how beautiful some of them are. I find very few of them to my taste. Even fewer are things that I would like to wear. But even just considering how they look on the women wearing them, I’m not enamoured. And this is without the practicalities coming into play. The sari is a completely ridiculous item of clothing to wear in a hot country while teaching. I’ll say no more about it now, I’ve ranted enough in other places about it. 🙂

In India, I had a conversation with one of my friends about various film stars (male and female) and which ones we each thought were attractive. Our differences in opinion were quite extreme. He was very careful to point out that he doesn’t think I have bad taste, just that our tastes are extremely different. Mind you, he didn’t like ‘Lord of the Rings’ and he doesn’t like strawberries, so perhaps his aesthetic sense is equally broken, but in a different direction. 🙂

I have realised that aspects of beauty are certainly cultural. Some of the volunteers have mentioned the fatter Sri Lankan women who roll out of their saris and don’t seem to care. The underlying assumption seems to be that the fat rolls are not attractive. However, Sri Lankan women seem to cultivate at least a certain amount of fat. I had a young Sri Lankan woman complain that her skin was too dark and she was too thin to wear a sari. It is unlikely that a western woman would complain of dark skin or being too thin.

There is one area where my aesthetic sense does seem to work. And that’s the natural world. Waterfalls, landscapes, valleys, mountains, cloud formations, trees, (flowers not so much), birds and animals to a lesser extent. I think Sri Pada (in Sri Lanka) and Poon Hill (in Nepal) and almost anywhere in Tibet are amazingly beautiful. I love the rainforests in Australia. I love the British countryside. Beaches don’t really do it for me, but lakes and rivers and mountains and forests certainly do.

So perhaps my aesthetic sense is just wired up in a different way. Or perhaps my attitude to make-up, clothing, jewellery etc just gets in the way of me being able to appreciate the beauty that may be there.

In any case, there are lots of things around me that I find beautiful. The fact that these things are not the same things as the things that other people find beautiful isn’t a problem. It’s just an interesting difference. 🙂 And interesting differences are things that I most certainly do find beautiful! 🙂

Covering Up

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012

I don’t know very many Muslim women. And I haven’t spoken to them much about clothing. But I have heard stories from people and have gathered a few observations. So this post is far more of my own thoughts and opinions than some other posts. And I’m very happy for this to be the starting point of a discussion, because I would really like to hear the viewpoints of other people. But I want to talk about women covering up.

I’ve been with Asian and western friends in different places (for example the beach at Kovalam in India) when we’ve seen women walking past who are completely covered up. I’m not sure of the differences between the burka, hijab, etc. But there is one mode of dress that shows only the eyes. The feet are covered (black socks in flip flops/sandals). Hands are covered (gloves). Body, neck and head are covered. I think these coverings are always black but I do know that the clothing underneath need not be.

I know that not all Muslim women cover up to that extent. Some cover the head and face, some just the head, some just the body, some are no more covered up than any other women.

I know some of these women cover up because they choose to. Some because they are told to. Some because they believe it is expected of them.

I know that there are not similar rules for men.

I have seen my friends bristle when a topless man wearing only shorts walks down the beach in the midday heat of an Indian summer with his wife (presumably) who is covered from top to toe in black.

I know many people think this is disgraceful. Why should women have to cover up so much? Particularly when men don’t?

Why are Muslim women not allowed to be seen at all, and yet many Muslim men (the ones standing next to their fully covered wives) seem to be allowed to gape open-mouthed at the other women on the beach.

I believe that one of the problems is that men are tempted when they see beautiful women. So why do we not bind the eyes of men instead of covering the women? It seems like we’re addressing the wrong problem.

I know that for many women this is a symbol of intense persecution. It is one part of a much bigger story. It is denying women the right to express themselves, to control their image, to control what they wear. It is a curtailment of freedom that goes much, much deeper than clothing.

But I likewise know that for some women it is a relief. It is a blessing. It is a salvation. It is a refuge. To be able to step (not hide) behind the clothing means that they will not be stared at as if they are a piece of meat with sexual organs.

For some women it is just the thing that they do. And the cheeky sparkling sequins on the hem of the dress underneath and the mascara that highlights the vibrant, beautiful, living eyes that shine from deep within show an individuality, a sense of style, an expression. They know that they must cover up, but that doesn’t mean they can’t still be beautiful. They can still enjoy clothing and jewellery and make up. They can wear heels. They can still be exactly the same woman that they are when they are not covered.

Sometimes, we outsiders question the motives of those inside a system. We can be told that some women choose to cover up. But often we ask “Is it a real choice?” “Is there a real alternative?” “Are they brainwashed into believing that they are freely choosing?”.

(All of these questions could be asked about women who wear skimpy clothing. And I think they are valid questions – for any group.)
Here is my take on it.

I sometimes would like to be able to cover myself completely.

I’ve done what I can. I like to wear a black shirt and black trousers. It’s my way of covering myself as much as I can while still remaining within the bounds of my culture’s norms. It is practical in that I can walk, run, ride a bike, climb over walls, etc while still maintaining as much decency as possible (not that there is anything particularly decent about me climbing over walls but it would be much less decent if I were wearing a skirt or a sari or a bikini – perish the thought).

I want to cover up for several reasons.

I want to cover up because of the sun. I burn easily and sunburn isn’t fun. Suncream isn’t much fun either.

I want to cover up because of decency. I do not live in a society where public nudity is acceptable. So some form of coverage is important.

I want to cover up because I do not want to show off my body. It’s not that I dislike my body. I just don’t feel it is particularly aesthetically pleasing so I have no desire to show it off to the world. I don’t feel my body has to be aesthetically pleasing. I believe its primary function is to serve as an interface between me and the world. It does that very well thank you. It need not be stunningly beautiful at the same time. And, before I get a torrent of replies telling me that I am beautiful (thank you), I don’t think I’m ugly, I just don’t think I’m stunningly beautiful.

I want to cover up because I don’t value beauty very much.

I want to cover up because I don’t like being judged on what I look like.

I would like to cover myself to the point that people couldn’t tell whether I was male or female. I don’t hate being a woman. I don’t want to be a man. I just think that gender should be as important as eye colour. And in the current world this is certainly not the case.

I want to cover up because covering up does seem to make a difference to how much unwanted attention women get from men. Particularly Sri Lankan men on buses.

In Sri Lanka, more than anywhere else, I want to cover up because I am completely and utterly sick and tired of my hair and my clothing and my beauty being so important to everyone else.

Personal Questions

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

What’s your country?
Where are you going?
Are you a Christian?
How old are you?
Are you married?
Why not?

I often get asked these questions by complete strangers. Even before they ask my name.

Personal questions are asked a lot in Asia. Partly because the English is easy. Partly because personal privacy doesn’t exist to the same extent here and mostly because I’m foreign and different and an unknown quantity.

And I mostly don’t mind. Except for the question about not being married (or not having a boyfriend). This one is hard.

I usually smile my cheekiest smile and say “I am too young to get married! I am only 36!”. (In these cultures 36 is almost a decade too old for a woman to get married.)

Cue much laughter.

Sometimes my new friends ask me this sincerely and I’m really not sure how to answer it.

I’ve thought of lying and claiming that there is a Mr Kath pining away at home (wherever home is) waiting for me to exhaust my wanderlust and bring him back a fridge magnet or a monkey carved out of a coconut. (Though I suspect that if I did have a Mr Kath he would not pine nor would he want (or get) a monkey carved out of a coconut.)

I don’t want to lie. (I already lie too much out here – mostly in an attempt to skip meals – yes, I’ve had lunch already (the food is amazingly tasty but Sri Lankan hospitality is so generous that I’m often given far too much food).)

But more importantly, I don’t want to have to lie. Why can’t I just be single? Why do I have to have a reason? And given that sometimes it can be lonely being single why can’t people understand that it might not be something I want to answer?

Sometimes a voice inside my head shouts “because he’s already got a girlfriend”, “because he turned me down”, “because he lives on a different continent”, “because he’s not interested in women”, “because he’s not interested in me”, “because he just wants to be friends”. Fortunately it usually stops before it gets to “because I’m obviously not good enough” or “because there must be something wrong with me”. These aren’t things I believe, but it’s hard not to consider them when most people around you seem to be in relationships and there seems to be an accusation on behalf of society that women are only single because they hate men or have something really wrong with them. Again, not something I believe.

It’s not that I particularly want to be single. It’s just that finding a good partner isn’t always easy. And yes, I probably make life a bit difficult for myself by travelling a lot. But I’m not going to stop doing that just so I stand a theoretically better chance of meeting someone.

Nor will I grow my hair, start wearing colourful clothing, wear skirts and dresses (except when teaching or weddings dictate), wear high heels, wear jewellery, wear make-up, be less independent, be more feminine (whatever that means), etc.

What I will do is to continue to be as true to myself as I can be. I’ll continue to travel. And I’ll continue to meet some really amazing men.

Here’s hoping I find one who I fancy, who fancies me, who is single and who is looking for the same type of relationship that I am. But if I can’t find one of them at least I know that my Christmas card list (if I had one, which I don’t) is very long and very distinguished. It has some truly amazing men on it and some equally amazing women.

I may not have a partner at the moment. And sometimes that makes me feel lonely. But I do have a really great collection of friends. And I wouldn’t trade a single one of them or my current lifestyle for a boyfriend.

And I still don’t know what the answer to the question is.

Skirts

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

I was told by the in-country manager in Thailand that female teachers should wear a long skirt while teaching.

Dammit. Number one: I don’t have any skirts. Number two: I hate wearing skirts. Number three: I hate teaching in a skirt (heads, shoulders, knees and toes becomes more difficult when one’s knees are obscured and lifting one’s foot to show one’s toes runs the serious risk of exposing large quantities of exceptionally white skin).

Number one is easily solved. After the induction session for the new volunteers who arrived on Sunday we went to a street market, followed by the night bazaar. So I bought a skirt. Urgghh. Anyway, it’s a long, loose, skirt. It’s not too fancy, it’s a dark colour (not black – black is worn at funerals), it’ll do. I figure I can alternate between it and the trousers and hopefully not upset too many people. If required I guess I can always buy another skirt. I shall be leaving any and all skirts here. I hope my host sister likes skirts!

Today I am wearing the skirt. And it is not nearly as pleasant as some might think. I know other people like wearing skirts, so I am willing to put this down to user-error. But nonetheless skirt-wearing just doesn’t do it for me.

I have nearly tripped over it several times while walking up and down the steps from my bedroom (upstairs) to the living area (including dining, kitchen, bathroom). I’ve stood on the end of it twice and almost made myself indecent while walking up steps here at school.

I’ve discovered that going to the toilet (squat toilet) in a skirt requires more hoisting and hitching and folding than with trousers.

Thailand is a hot country. I sweat. My legs are not the slimmest of things imaginable (hmm, possibly a poor choice of words since I’m imagining that many of you are now imagining my legs and I think that none of this imagining is particularly good and it all should be discouraged). Shall we say the word “chafe” could be used appropriately, if one were to use words to discuss such matters, which perhaps us ladies of decorum shouldn’t do. (I must be a lady of decorum – I’m wearing a skirt!) Mental note: buy talcum powder.

I’ve found that mosquitoes are required to attend the morning assembly with everyone else and they hang out in the shade of the trees (sensible things). As do the teachers. A skirt does not provide sufficient / any barrier to prevent them from feasting on my ankles and calves. Mental note: spray legs with mosquito repellent before assemblies.

Oh, and this skirt has no pockets. I’m sure I have ranted about lack of pockets in skirts/saris/clothing before. Fortunately, I have a bag, else I may have to take after some of my Scottish secondary students and store my mobile phone in my bra. This certainly seems sub-optimal since the bra is another item of clothing that does not contain pockets.

I got a lift to school on the back of a motorbike this morning. (My insurance does cover me for this and I did wear a helmet so it’s not quite as reckless as it sounds.) Getting on and off the motorbike does require an amount of hitching up of skirt and some flashing of startlingly white skin at the world. Fortunately, the skirt is sufficiently baggy that once on said motorbike I am able to ensure that there is no available skin for the sun to reflect off – I could blind other motorists and be a rather serious threat to traffic otherwise.

But apart from the risk to life, limb and decency; the logistical hassle; the mosquito issue and the heads, shoulders, knees and toes handicap, skirts seem to be a plan with no drawbacks.

Ah well, at least tomorrow is a trousers day.

Making Friends in Tea Plantations

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Warning: this post contains language that some people may not be happy reading. It’s also not appropriate for young readers. You have been warned.

While Emily, Lauren and I were wandering along the road through the tea plantations trying to find Little Adam’s Peak we met a local. He was late teens I guess, though could have been early twenties.

We passed him as we were walking up the hill. When we got to the top we stopped to take some photos and he caught up with us.

He came up to Emily and said something to her that sounded like “Are you fine?”.

Which I thought was a little odd. English conversations here go like this: “How are you?” “I’m fine. How are you?” “I’m fine.”. Deviations from this script just don’t happen.

We asked him to repeat what he’d said. At which point Emily and I both figured it out.

“Are you fucking?”

Emily was shocked and didn’t quite know what to do.

He tried again with a different line.

“You are very beautiful.”

So Emily and I walked off on him.

He then went up to Lauren.

“I love you.”

She joined us in walking up the hill and away from him.

We jokingly put it down to the fact that Emily was wearing black (I’ve been told that that’s the colour that prostitutes traditionally wear), that her shoulders were exposed (she was wearing a vest top since we weren’t on project and were in a more touristy area) and that she was white.

We hoped that someone had played a rather unpleasant joke on this kid and that he didn’t know what he was saying. My guess is that he did know what he was saying. When a culture that is as sexually repressed as the Sri Lankan culture is meets a culture that is quite open then there are bound to be misunderstandings. To them it probably seems like all white women are loose women who will sleep with anyone (I mean, some of us live with our boyfriends, some of us have multiple boyfriends (though not usually at the same time)). But to us there are rules and etiquettes about how we treat each other. And going up to a girl you don’t know and saying “Are you fucking?” is not the done thing.

But this experience freaked us out a little bit. It made us feel a bit uncomfortable. It made us even more wary of Sri Lankan men. It made us wish we had a man travelling with us (and that thought made me very angry – not because I don’t like men, I do, some of my very best friends are men, but because I don’t like the fact that women are vulnerable purely because they are women).

Now I don’t think this guy would have hurt us. I don’t think he intended to freak us out as much as he did. I’m not sure what he thought or intended but I don’t think he was dangerous.

But what he did do was make us feel uncomfortable and far less friendly towards the Sri Lankan people. It is thanks to people like him and the freaky guy on the bus once who tried to get me to get off at the wrong stop and go to a hotel with him, and the guy on the train to Galle who was leaning on me despite the fact that there was no one else around him, and the guy who started off being nice but by the end of the conversation was pledging his undying love for me and planning our life together that make me wary about travelling. And make me warn other women that they do have to be careful and that while these people might not be dangerous they will be annoying and unfortunately the fact that we are white and female makes these men think they can treat us badly. And this in a culture that prides itself on respect.

Sari Shopping

Monday, July 25th, 2011

I’d recommended to the volunteers that they wear saris for teaching. In Sri Lanka all the female teachers have to wear saris. Poor things.

And even though I hate the things, I think wearing them is the right thing to do.

But, if I’m going to ask the volunteers to wear them, I really should wear one too. Dammit.

So I decided I should buy one. I went on my own. I have learnt that going shopping with other people does not promote contentment in Kath.

I had trouble finding a cheap, plain, black sari. No real surprise there.

People in Sri Lanka may be lovely in general but some of them do try hard to screw me over because I’m white. I suffer less than I could but more than I should. This makes sari shopping even less fun that it could be.
“1,000 is too much. I paid 350 in 2009.”
“Ah, but everything is more expensive. What you used to get for 1,000 now costs 5,000.”
“No it doesn’t.”
“1,000 is the cheapest I can do. It’s a good price.”
“No thank you.”
Ah well. I’ll just go somewhere else then and keep looking.

Anyway, I eventually found a dark purple sari that only cost twice what I wanted to pay. It’s a small victory.

I then had to go shopping with the volunteers to help them get their saris. The proverbial blind leading the blind.

The people in the first shop were so bloody irritating that one of the volunteers nearly stormed out. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had.

Despite the fact that I’d been in the shop last week and been told they had no black saris and that the cheapest they had was over 1,000, it seemed on this day they had a black one for 600. Ah well. Guess that means I can now get rid of the purple thing.

The next shop was better in that the staff actually left us alone (mostly). Oh, and they were playing Bryan Adams which made the whole thing almost bearable.

It was a reasonably successful trip in that we all left the shop in possession of saris, underskirts and blouses.

But we did all desperately need fruit salad afterwards.

Traumatic!

Bryan Adams makes it better, but even he cannot make sari shopping enjoyable.

Clothes Shopping

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

Clothes shopping is not something that I am known for. It’s not something I enjoy. At all. Though I do get quite excited about developments in mosquito repellent clothing. Craghoppers do a great pair of trousers with drawstrings at the ankles that are just the best thing ever. But that’s about as far as I get with clothes shopping. And I even whinge about the Craghoppers stuff because there isn’t enough of it (i.e. any) that is black. Ah well. Given the stuff stops me getting bitten, or at least reduces substantially the number of bites I get, my whinge about colour can be fairly safely ignored.

Some of you may have been reading this for a while. And you may remember that when I started teaching in Sri Lanka in 2009 that I wore a sari. You may even remember some (or all) of the posts I wrote then about how much I dislike saris as a component of my wardrobe.

I probably also wrote about the actual process of buying the things.

Anyway, I’ve come a long way since then. In lots of areas. My dislike of saris has remained unchanged though. In fact, it has strengthened.

But, I’m in India. And at the start of a new project. Elaine will be here for 10 weeks. I’ll be around for 2 and a half. So I thought we should probably go during week one to get some suitable things to wear for teaching. Elaine didn’t seem keen on the sari idea. We both decided that churidor would be the answer. These are the shirt/trouser things that Indian women wear. The trousers are bunched at the ankle but are usually quite billowy around the legs themselves. The tops are short or long sleeved and the top comes down to mid thigh, or lower. There are slits in the side from about hip level down. This is usually worn with a scarf. The two ends flow backwards over the shoulders (where it is sometimes pinned). The front bit of the scarf hangs down covering most of the chest. Not so different from the shirt and trousers I usually wear so I thought, why not, give it a go.

So we arranged with Josy (Johnson’s sister) that we would go shopping with her on Thursday afternoon. Jo, Josy’s husband, asked why we didn’t ask him. I said it was because he was a boy. But he did offer to drive us, which was very nice of him. 🙂

We met up at the house on Thursday at the correct time. We got into the car. We headed off. Jo announced that Josy had a hospital appointment and so we would drop her off and Jo would take us shopping. Now, I’m usually not a big fan of gender discrimination, but the reason why we wanted Josy to come with us was because we don’t know anything about churidor and she’s a woman who wears churidor, she will know. But, if it’s Jo, then it’s Jo. He said it would be no problem, he could help. I was sceptical. He was confident. I asked if he’d ever worn churidor before. He was uncharacteristically silent. Well, we’ll see what happens.

What happened is probably best not talked about in too much detail. Suffice it to say the next hour saw me spend more time in the stationery shop than the clothes shop (I had to keep escaping next door to comfort-buy pens and pencils each time it all got too much for me).

One shop invovled Elaine and I having several heated discussions with Jo and the three male sales assistants about what we wanted/needed and what was available.

  • White is not a good idea, have you been in an Indian school? They are dirty, dusty places.
  • Sleeves that short are definitely not ok, this is for teaching.
  • Have we mentioned that we need these to wear for teaching. They are not a tourist souvenir.
  • Are there any trousers smaller than that? Do you mean to say that every Indian woman is wearing trousers that baggy? You could fit every Indian woman into one pair of trousers that big!
  • She needs sleeves that cover her shoulders.
  • Not white.
  • Not so fancy.
  • Do you have anything plainer?
  • No, that won’t fit her, that’s a 30A, she’s a 32D!
  • Showing us extra material that you can sew into this to make it fit her isn’t useful. Can we just get something in the right size please?

Elaine finally demanded that we call Josy and meet her after her appointment.

Which we did. We then went to the shop she usually goes to. This was better already. Elaine managed to get 4 tops. Since she already has some black trousers, she decided there was no need to buy trousers. And she had no intention of wearing a scarf. So she was fine.

My turn. I do not want anything fancy. Plain black please. They didn’t have any. Jo assured me that only Moslems wear plain black. Which I’m sure isn’t true. But anyway, this shop didn’t have any plain black. Ok, how about plain dark brown, dark blue, dark purple, dark red even? I knew this was getting tough. I was prepared to compromise. Nope. It seems the plainest thing that you can get is either black completely covered in sequins. Or black with a two inch peacock blue and gold trim on the hem and sleeves and covering the whole chest. Hmm, not quite my idea of plain.

By this stage, I’d pretty much decided that the whole afternoon had been far too difficult and fraught that I just wouldn’t bother. My trousers and shirts would do me just fine for the remaining week and a bit.

But it was to get worse. I said that it was enough. Jo said it was no problem, he didn’t mind going into more shops. I said yes, but I mind. If I go in to any more shops I will start punching people. I even mimed punching him in the face just to get my point across. Finally I conceded we could try one more shop only.

We tried 4. The last one had something that was reasonably plain. But by this stage there was nothing on earth I was going to be able to look at, try on, like and buy. I tried this one on. Felt like a complete freak. Yelped something about being a human being not a clothes horse. Managed to avoid use of expletives. Took it swiftly off again and walked out.

We went for fruit salad. The world became a happier place. 🙂

Why I wear all black

Friday, January 7th, 2011

People keep asking me why I wear all black.

Or they look at me and say: “You still haven’t changed your colour of dress.” “Don’t you like to wear coloured clothing?”
To which my responses are: “Nope.” “Nope.”

And then they ask me why I wear all black.

And this isn’t just people in Sri Lanka. People in the UK also ask. Though not as often. By UK standards it’s a personal question that you wait till you know someone quite well before you ask them. After a week or two. After you’ve bought them a drink in a pub and they’ve bought you one. After you’ve worked out how you each take your tea. In Sri Lanka it comes quite closely after “Sit! Will you.” “Tea!” (This is more an order than a question.) “How old are you?” “Are you married?” “Why aren’t you married?” “What’s your religion?”. “Why do you have short hair?” All of which come before the water for the tea has boiled. 🙂

Anyway. Here’s the story.

I decided to only wear black (black shirts, black trousers) when I was in Sri Lanka last time. It was while I was standing around at the College of Education one morning waiting for the batch photo. I was wearing a black shirt and black trousers. The women were wearing their nicest saris. The men were wearing shirts, and TIES!! The monks were wearing their usual robes.

I was sick of being asked by all and sundry why I wasn’t dressed up for the photo. I was thinking about how lucky the monks are because no one would ask them why they hadn’t made an effort, what they would do about their hair, why they weren’t wearing beautiful jewelry/ties to match their clothes. And I thought ah, what I need is a religion whose uniform is a black shirt and black trousers. Then I can wear what I want all the time and won’t have to justify it (other than by saying it’s my religion). And I thought, well, I should just do that then. Only, since I don’t like religions I’ll do it without the religion bit.

Most of the reason for this comes from spending three months teaching at Kandy Model School. While I was there I had to wear a sari every day. I hated it. But I had two saris and could just about cope with them. I realised that while I had to wear a necklace to leave the house, I could just take it off once I got out the door. I then realised that I could even leave some mornings with no necklace on at all. And once I worked out how to tie the bloody sari the other teachers and other random women did less coming up to me and fixing it for me (sometimes while I was actually teaching a class).

And then came the most important event in Kath’s sartorial career. The Sports Meet. You must have a beautiful sari for a sports meet. Ok. I’ll wear my red one which people thing is more beautiful than my purple one. No. You need a new and beautiful sari. So I was subjected to Pushpa and her daughter wrapping lots of Pushpa’s saris around me to find one that was beautiful enough. The problem was that Pushpa is taller than I am and wears slightly wider saris. When I wear them, the frill is too big and I am ugly. It’s ok. I can just wear my red one. The principal’s sister gave me a sari. Awesome. It’s new (well, new to me). It’s beautiful (I don’t even know what beautiful means in this country but I do know that by definition every sari is beautiful). It’ll do. Thank god.

But I wasn’t allowed to tie it myself. I was told that Pushpa had to do it because it had to look beautiful. Now I dislike sports meets at the best of time. The fact that they bring back bad memories of sport from school. The fact that this one had caused 6 weeks of missed classes. The fact that I had to look beautiful.

I stood and let Pushpa dress me. I breathed deeply. I counted to ten in any language I could think of. I desperately tried to unclench my teeth. I attempted to make the expression on my face look more like a smile than a grimace. I went downstairs and closed my bedroom door and swore loudly and repeatedly and stamped my foot. This made me feel better.

By the time I’d walked from the house to the street to get the van the sari was starting to fall off. The over-the-shoulder-taily-bit had come loose. I was standing on the bottom of the sari (this is why my frill has to be bigger, or my legs have to be longer). So I got to school. Hid in the office. Redid the sari. Took the stupid necklace off. And mostly survived the day.

At that point, I wanted to never wear clothes again. Wearing black shirts and black trousers is the closest I can get to wearing nothing without wearing nothing. I don’t want to wear nothing. I want to be protected from the heat, the cold, the sun and other people’s prying eyes. I don’t want to expose myself. I want to be well enough dressed so that I won’t stand out. Hence black shirt and black trousers. Presentable enough to wear for job interviews, weddings, funerals, etc. Practical enough to wear for trekking and cycling. And I don’t have to think about it.

Mosquito Proof Clothing

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Before I left the UK I did some investigating into mosquito-proof clothing. Not only did I investigate, I actually bought some. 50GBP for a pair of trousers and a shirt – which is ridiculous money in my mind, well ridiculous for clothing but not so ridiculous if it turns out to be mosquito-proof. 🙂

And they didn’t have them in black so my mossie-proof clothing is the only clothing I currently own that isn’t black. But, important as fashion is to me, it is far more important for me to be mossie-proof. 😉 So I succumbed and bought the non-black clothes (the shirt even has silly pink trim on bits of it, dear god).

I was slightly sceptical about the stuff but was keen to see how it would work. The trials in the UK were positive. I wore them several times there and didn’t get bitten once – the fact that I didn’t encounter any mosquitoes is (in my mind) somewhat irrelevant. 🙂

I have now worn them in Sri Lanka, in mosquito-infested areas. And I can now say – unequivocally – they work!!

I’ve worn my normal clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I got bitten. I wore my mossie-proof clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I didn’t get bitten. Well, I didn’t get bitten on the bits of me that were covered by the clothes, the skin on my feet is a veritable dirty blanket of mosquito bites.

But the mossie-proof clothes work!

Oh, and I should mention they appear to be dog-proof as well. I have never been bitten by a dog wearing these trousers. Wish I could say the same for my other trousers. 🙂

Wonder if Craghoppers do a range of mossie-proof socks. Hmmmm.

48 Mosquito Proof Clothing

Before I left the UK I did some investigating into mosquito-proof clothing. Not only did I investigate, I acutally bought some. 50GBP for a pair of trousers and a shirt – which is ridiculous money in my mind, well ridiculous for clothing but not so ridiculous if it turns out to be mosquito-proof. 🙂

And they didn’t have them in black so my mossie-proof clothing is the only clothing I currently own that isn’t black. But, important as fashion is to me, it is far more important for me to be mossie-proof. So I succumbed and bought the non-black clothes (the shirt even has silly pink trim on bits of it, dear god).

I was slightly sceptical about the stuff but was keen to see how it would work. The trials in the UK were positive. I wore them several times there and didn’t get bitten once – the fact that I didn’t encounter any mosquitoes is (in my mind) somewhat irrelevant. 🙂

I have now worn them in Sri Lanka, in mosquito-infested areas. And I can now say – unequivocally – they work!!

I’ve worn my normal clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I got bitten. I wore my mossie-proof clothes in Mahesh’s living room and in Sujith’s house. And I didn’t get bitten. Well, I didn’t get bitten on the bits of me that were covered by the clothes, the skin on my feet is a veritable dirty blanket of mosquito bites.

But the mossie-proof clothes work!

Oh, and I should mention they appear to be dog-proof as well. I have never been bitten by a dog wearing these trousers. Wish I could say the same for my other trousers. 🙂

Wonder if Craghoppers do a range of mossie-proof socks. Hmmmm.

Drying Clothes

Friday, December 24th, 2010

It is a well-known fact that clothes need to be washed on a regular basis. See one of my earlier posts for my thoughts on the washing of clothes.

What is equally well-known though frequently not mentioned is the fact that clothes need to dry as well.

Just washing them isn’t actually enough.

In Ratnapura it can take several days for clothes to dry (I mean 3 or 4). In Anuradhapura in the dry season it takes 1 hour. In the wet season it takes 2 days. Do you know how dirty clothes get when they are hanging outside (or inside or in a covered porch) for 2 days in the pouring rain drying?

But I believe that the various monsoons or inter-monsoonal rains are due to finish soon (this month, next month, the month after). At which point I’ll stop whingeing about drying clothes and instead write blog posts marvelling at how quickly stuff dries in the hot, dry sun.

Why is it so difficult for human beings to keep themselves and their stuff clean, warm and dry? Surely all the evolving we’ve been doing should imply we can do these fairly basic things. We can curl our eyelashes for godsakes, why is clean, warm and dry so hard?!?!

PS: I am currently clean, warm and dry. My clothes (all except the ones I’m actually wearing) are at a laundry being laundered so I am expecting them back later today, clean, warm and dry. So the clean-warm-and-dry problem is only intermittent – not that that makes it less of a problem when it is happening. 🙂