Saturday, December 22, 2012

All Things Girly

Maybe it's because it is the holiday season – and everyone at home is getting all dolled up.
More likely it is because I am in Africa and am filthy and covered with dust all of the time.

Don't let that tan in my photos fool you – it washes off with a good shower.

Either way I think it is time to talk about the girly things in Benin:
Nail Mamas, Tissu Shopping, and Belly Beads

Nail Mamas
aka the ladies who walk around with bins of nail polish on their heads

Can you see the star glitters?!?!

These amazing women will do a full mani-Pedi for 200cfa (the price of two pineapples or 40¢).Now of course when I say mani-pedi you have to think – 6th grade sleep over party with your best friends not fancy American day-spa. Don't worry her color selection will definitely help you imagine this. OH and sometimes the nail mama is feeling creative too. If you want just a plain color you have to specify or else it will never happen. Sometimes you get stripes and designs.. glitter.. or even every nail a different color. Tell her it's for a holiday, she will have a blast with that as well.. and we all thought the day's of holiday themed nail polish were over after high school (silly us). I occasionally go to a stationary nail/hair lady who I pass everyday on my way to work (more often I just do my own nails – I know party pooper). However, most nail mamas are not stationary, you can often flag one of the amazing traveling nail polish ladies down as you see her walking down the road. Many volunteers will get their nails done while sitting in the local buvette.. just ask a random child to go find her for you.
Tissu Shopping and Tailored Clothes

The Beninese version of clothes shopping. In Benin you can buy ready to wear clothes BUT it is very expensive... and unnecessary. You go to the tailor.

In this country you go to the market and buy fabric “tissu” and then bring the fabric to your tailor and get whatever you want made (the outcome may or may not be what you ordered but just roll with it). Frequently families wear matching outfits – which is kind of adorable. When anyone has a party for a wedding or a funeral or for some other big occasion – the entire party will purchase the same tissu for their outfits. The volunteers call this having même tish.. we have also been known to indulge in the weird habit for many occasions (and are required to do so for our swear-in ceremony). NOTE: This is not just a tissu thing – The Beninese LOVE getting matching t-shirts made for most any occasion as a souvenir. Most commonly this will be a t-shirt from a funeral with the date and person's face printed on it.

même tissu

The amazing thing about the fabric here is that it is not only fantastically brightly colored – it is also the most random thing in the world. You can find tissu with patterns of chairs – umbrellas – trees or flowers – hand bags – most animals – various shapes -- really truly anything. There is a tissu that one of my neighbors has.. it is toasters with pieces of buttered toast flying out of them (unfortunately I have not seen this pattern for sale). There are always certain tissu patterns that get popular and everyone will be wearing it in various colors. A really ugly prawn pattern was popular when we first got here.. luckily that one has died down. The tissu (and also the dress designs) go through “fashion seasons” just like clothes do at home (the amazing toaster tissu must have been last season). – Also beadazzling the clothing is a thing here – make sure you ask for your outfit to be plain – this guarantees nothing but it does give you a fighting chance.  

Belly Beads  

The lingerie of Benin. Women of all ages wear belly beads starting when they are a baby (for babies they are actually used to keep the cloth diapers in place). It is believed that wearing beads around the waist helps a little girl grow into a womanly figure. After a certain age these beads become “lingerie” in the sense that they are not meant to be seen. For little naked babies running around there is nothing taboo about them – but for older girls they are considered something for your husband.

That doesn't take the fun out of it though. Just like the Nail Mamas there are Bead Mamas as well. These women walk around with basins full of bead strands and sell them to you at 100 cfa a strand (depending how many times you want it to go around - 3 to 4 times is normal - and how big you are.. it is usually 300-500 cfa). I think that being able to afford more beads is a status thing for women – just like having lots of hair. The colors are almost as varied as the nail polish ladies --- and some bead mamas will also have beads that are different sizes are shapes. Usually they are just simple round beads.

For all the men reading this blog: Men in Benin play pitanque and/or soccer.. they wear whatever clothes their wives pick out... and the spend A LOT of time sitting around and drinking beer.

Happy Holidays,

1 comment:

  1. well for me i think i will sit round and watch american soccer while i drink my beer. Think i remembrer the toaster print from my childhood. I would guess it is not in flannel in benin.