The emperor's new clothes
on Bangin' in the 'Desh (Bangladesh), 15/Dec/2009 09:39, 34 days ago
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When I first thought of living in Bangladesh, I had an image of myself; flowing silk saris, beautiful scarves, beads, really long hair, loads of gold jewellery, hundreds of bracelets… basically becoming the epitome of‘boho chic‘, and putting Kate Moss to shame. But alas, the dream hasn’t come true. Far from it. I've come to realise that there are so many steps to get from buying material, to actually wearing clothes, it’s exhausting. The term ‘pret a porter’ has never seemed so attractive to me than ever.Now, don’t get me wrong, going to the market to buy material is entertaining. The fabric stalls are all run by men, constantly shouting,‘Sister!' or 'Apa!’, trying to get your attention as you walk through the market. Once you approach the stall, they're excited, and they start pulling out piles of material before you've even asked for anything, plus, they're also obsessed with you sitting down for the fabric‘performance‘. ‘Please come! Sit down sister, please. PLEASE sit down, sit down!‘ They have little stools for customers to sit on as they dramatically select, pull and then roll out fabric and saris from their walls of material, as they stand on a raised platform. Note: it’s practically sacrilegious to walk on this platform with shoes on - big no no. From the piles and piles of stacked cloth, you can get every colour and fabric type under the sun; cotton, silk, synthetic, patterns, prints, sequence, beaded, tie-dye, you name it. It’s overwhelming. My eyes dart around so much at everything flying at me, it‘s so hard to choose. Especially for me; I love anything shiny or bright, so my head feels like it’s spinning, trying to look at EVERYTHING all at once.After the initial frenzy and excitement of choosing the right fabric, bargaining for it - which involves a hell of a lot of discussion - there’s a nice sense of satisfaction once the purchase has been made, and then it’s time to go home with it all, ready for the next step in the clothes-making process. However, to be honest, once you actually get home, take the material out of the bag and place it on the table, it sort of becomes a bit disappointing. You can’t WEAR any of it. It's material, sitting there, on the table. Mmm... Sometimes when you look at what you actually bought, there’s also a sense of mild panic. What looked so good at the market, now looks a bit silly once you realize you have to wear all of this canary yellow paisley print, not paint a picture with it. Sometimes shiny gold trousers in reality, don’t really feel like practical attire to go the corner store to buy milk in. I went so over the top when I first got here that most of my clothes look like I should be an extra in a Bollywood film. Gold, beaded, patterns, trim, gold, gold and yes, more gold. All the other volunteers seemed to have opted for plain cotton mixes whereas I’m sitting at work today wearing a pink, yellow and gold sequenced number. Bling meets Bang is my style here it seems.Anyway, let’s move on to the tailor. Ah, the tailor. The man I love to hate. Everyone has their ’tailor’ here and loyalty runs deep. Even though my tailor hardly speaks English, cuts the fabric incorrectly on most occasions and is often downright rude, I feel like I’m stuck with him now because of thiswhole ‘loyalty’ crap, and live in the hope that the more I go to him, the clothes might, just might, get better. Ah, optimism. Explaining what I actually want to this man has not always worked out as planned. It’s usually been a case of me going into his abode, dumping the fabric out onto the table, getting measured, and then the worst part, asking for the style I want. All in all, despite the Bengali I’ve learned; ‘chapano banan‘ (which means make it tight) and ‘dhola na‘ (which means not wide), all my clothes keep coming back absolutely, bloody ENORMOUS. I feel like I should be in a Subway sandwich commerical half the time. Seriously. We’re talking, HUGE. The tops - kameez - are generally fine, but the trousers - shalwar - are gigantic. I don’t know why he bothers measuring me!? Argh! All of my shalwar are so big in fact, that even my boss commented on the ridiculousness of them when we were in our company van, and the fabric of my shalwar covered the entire seat.Through all of this fabric drama with the tailor, it’s made me start to loathe the shalwar in general and I’ve started wearing the kameez tops with leggings. Now, since I only own two pairs of leggings, I knew that this was only a short term fashion solution. I talked to my lovely work colleague and she offered to come with me to the tailors formoral support - one last ditch attempt to sort these Goddamned shalwar out. I was tired of the miscommunication breakdown with the tailor, mostly resulting in a lot of bad pen illustrations and pointing from my end, so I jumped at the chance for her to help me. Last week she came with me to see himand explained to the tailor everything that I needed, and that the material needed to be CUT OUT of the shalwar, drawing it with chalk. He nodded to my colleague, and I felt embarrassed, like a bit of a 'boka' (fool), but thankfully, the whole experience was over quickly and it was relatively painless. All I need to do now is go back this week to collect the ‘revised’ attire. Cross your fingers for me it works out so i don't go on drowing in a sea of fabric! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE!In the meantime, while I’ve been trying to sort out all of these bloody shalwar, I’ve branched out and embraced the world of the sari. Elegant and beautiful, it seemed like the way forward. Who needs the shalwar kameez anyway? Not me! After wearing a sari to the office last week, which caused a furor of excitement amongst my co-workers, I also wore one to the market and got the best deals ever. I suppose you look a bit more ‘with it’ versus ‘just got off the boat’ when you‘re rockin‘ the full-on traditional dress. But, pretty much everyone just kept asking the same question,‘How did you put it on?’ This, my friends, was a challenge. No word of a lie. The first time I wore the sari, I wrapped it round and round and just tucke dit, hoping for the best, and it kept unraveling at my boss’ house(!) which resulted in hundreds of awkward trips to the washroom to 're-wrap', and a comment from my boss‘ son that I looked like a mummy. Hot. The second time, I wore it without the petticoat underneath in an attempt to wrap it tighter, and even though it was an improvement on the last attempt, the material at the bottom was so tight, it chaffed my ankles and made me walk like a geisha. This, coupled with the fact that upon telling my female co-worker about the non-petticoat situation, she was horrified for my decency incase I unravelled in the street, and insisted on shutting my office door to show me how to put on the sari properly. Thankfully, the lesson made me I understand why you need the petticoat - to tuck the sari into something of course, or else it unravels. Seems like common sense, right? Ha. Anyway, I’ve mastered it now. Well, mastered it as in, I can wear a sari for a whole day and it doesn’t come off. Phew. Who knew clothes could be such hard work?