Old Dirty Denim and Smelly Sandals

In earlier days, those who returned from abroad were part of an avant-garde of sorts, a misnomer, for they were really simply mainstream foreign fashion in Kenya. From them, we learned about mini-skirts, and 10-inch boots, Goth-light, and the charms of baggy and tight, leather and lace. One of my siblings taught me about asymmetrical skirts when she sported a faux-Madonna look many many years go.

I have always felt that I disappoint when I travel home. I have tended toward the dowdy and comfortable—my old, torn jeans, my much-used sandals, 50 ct. tees, overalls that an old-time farmer would be ashamed to wear, and jackets that Goodwill would reject. I travel and live to be comfortable, and also, in some sense, to be true to the kind of “aesthetic” that I live, when not engaged in some professional activity. I should note that my visit to the store to buy the obligatory interview suit was one of the most unsettling experiences of my entire adult life. I chose this profession so that I wouldn’t have to suit up, or so I thought.

I am in the midst of packing up for yet another brief trip home, and as I pack my much-loved smelly sandals, my cheap tees, my Goodwill rejects to face fashion-conscious Nairobi, and those friends who define, in their various successes, the face of forward-looking Kenya, I am anticipating once again unsettling and disappointing, being a certain kind of traveler, dowdy, travel-stained, rumpled, and comfortable.

3 thoughts on “Old Dirty Denim and Smelly Sandals

  1. I hear you about expectations of grandeur and the thinly veiled disappointment when you show up looking not as glamourous as those at the airport to meet you.

    I have also constantly felt the pressure to bring gifts. Lavish gifts that befit my position of ‘returning from abroad’.

  2. I am laughing at this. I think Nairobians—middle and upper class ones, at least—are some of the most fashion-conscious people anywhere in the world. That said, I dress so laid back that even Kenyans here (friends whom you’d think should know better!) have called me out on it. There is a little George Orwell in me: his (lack of) fashion sense, not his conservatism.

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