Every day I spend in this place, the enormity of its patriarchal madness gives me a new surprise. (I don’t even know what that sentence means, but when my male colleagues will hear that they’d think I’m educated and in charge.) Well, it’s not just a traditional society. It’s a society where women are still “women.”
Now, before I came here I was warned about what to wear, that I should dress as conservatively as possible. For those who know me personally, you would seldom see me all covered up. It’s either I wear jeans and a sleeveless blouse, a long-sleeved shirt with shorts, a strapless long dress, or a dress with sleeves but falls just above the knees. You get the picture. But of course, that’s back home. Here, I try to cover up as much as I can despite the scorching temperatures.
Yesterday, I had a meeting with a big guy from the Ministry. I dressed up in my best trousers and a “formal” shirt, and I did look really decent. Not exposing anything. I even wore socks!
But just as I was about to get into the car, one of the Sudanese staff whispered to a Kenyan colleague, “Please, tell her not to go dressed like that.” Apparently, he was too shy to tell me to my face to go and change, and so he told a fellow man, who is not a Sudanese, to tell me. Maybe in their culture they can’t openly discuss with a woman what she is wearing as that might be taken as a sign of having interest in her. So my Kenyan colleague told me, “Reiza, when you go to the Ministry, I suggest you wear a skirt. These male directors don’t take kindly of women who wear trousers entering their offices.”
I was shocked. I thought I looked really polished and respectable. But no, I can’t wear trousers to go into this big shot’s office. I must be “properly” dressed—in a skirt like a “normal woman.” And it wasn’t even a skirt that I was supposed to wear, but a really long dress. Down to the ankles or mid-calves. And the shirt sleeves long to my wrists. But well, I had to make do with a maxi summer dress (that I reserved for my R&R) and layered it with a long-sleeved shirt. Forget about fashion here.
|Dressed like real respectable women.|
It beats my understanding, why they expect women to be all covered up in this heat! It gets to 40 degrees, and you feel like walking around in flimsy clothing! But no, you have to be “properly” dressed!
The comment they made the moment I stepped out of my hut in my “female” clothing was, “Ah, now you are a real girl.” That should say it all, about their attitude. When I got to the big shot’s office, I was curious to see how the other women in there were dressed. But why wasn’t I not surprised to discover I was the only woman facing Mr. Director General?
On seeing me, he exclaimed, “Why do they send such a beautiful lady to a place like South Sudan?” I wanted to take that as a compliment. But if you read between the lines, the way Freud would, you would really know that he was thinking, “What work can a woman do? They should have sent a fellow man!”
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