It has been a long time since I wrote about the small steps I am able to take toward integrating myself into local culture! To me it seems that FSIL and FSRL are micro-cultures: here, people are very accepting of the Americans in their midst – not too much cultural flexibility is required most of the time.
I have toned up my wardrobe considerably for my work life here. As a pediatric OT in the school system in the US, I got away with wearing garments that were the next step up from pajamas and bedroom slippers. It made sense to wear comfortable stretchy washable clothes, for a normal work day that might include climbing a ladder to put up a swing, sitting with the most messy eater in the cafeteria to help that person begin to control the food supply, and painting. But…
Here my first discovery, a year and a half ago, was that I needed closed-toe shoes with at least a little bit of a high heel.
I got over that and adjusted.
My next discovery was that I needed skirts and blouses, ironed.
I got over that and adjusted.
My next discovery was an interesting one from an Occupational Therapy point of view. I have scoliosis, and after a few months of the skirt and blouse routine I gave up on it, and took to dresses. My hips are all askew, and I always dragged one side of the skirt lower than the other. A few photographs later, I decided that wasn’t doing our program any good – the dean, trailing along with drooping garments. But…. my shoulders are even-sided, and dresses work!
I bought a set of remarkably practical dresses: all the same, but in different fabric, and with POCKETS! I had some for everyday, and a couple for formal occasions. They also remarkably didn’t need ironing!! Because they are made of some kind or other of plastic, I believe…..
I got over the upgrade, and adjusted.
At FSRL and FSIL the young faculty members are very fashionable.
I hope that as you read this story your sympathies will be MORE AND MORE with the young women here on the faculty at FSRL. They have a challenge, in ME.
During the lead-up (planning) for this Prise d’habit ceremony, as we discussed practical details, one of them cleared her throat and said, “Now, for what you will wear.”
“You must wear something very pretty.”
“Oh”, I said, “Don’t worry. I have a gray dress” (meaning, comfortable! No-iron! Pockets!)
“No, you must have the jacket. I will buy it for you.”
“Um, I’m afraid it will be too HOT.”
“No, we will be in the air conditioning. What size do you wear? I think it’s better if you have a new dress with the jacket that will be the same fabric. I will find one for you. And, do you have Make-Up?”
I confess I burst out laughing about that last question. But when I got over myself and calmed down, she was still there, looking quite determined, saying
“ I know how to do make-up. And the shoes must match. What size do you wear?”
WELL, I knew I was pretty well defeated, and the most I could hope for was to push back on some of the smaller requirements, while capitulating on the main idea: Dean O’Flynn was going to look like a credit to FSRL, no matter what.
I would not know where to go here for a formal type of outfit, at all, but our young woman took the time on Friday to go to that area of Léogâne and take photos of likely ensembles for me. Unfortunately, I was hosting a small group of visiting faculty on a field trip to the national museum of history, in Port-au-Prince. Three times during the tour my phone rang. I was expecting to have one call from the driver (who was off doing errands) to give us our pick-up instructions, so I kept answering the phone. It was never the driver.
Another fashionable young staff member of FSIL had joined the first one.
First, did I get the photos? No. [Cell phone reception was not very good.]
In the absence of photos they started describing choices.
They wanted to know if I would prefer pink with cream – or did they say “green”? If it was going to be cream, there must also be shoes to match – what was my size of shoe? American or European size?
“Stockings?” (WHAT??????? TOO HOT!!!!!!!!)
Finally I said the phone calls were annoying the tour guide and they had to stop calling. That I would wear whatever they brought.
So, late Friday, I got a text that I should go to the Admin office to find my garment on the desk. It was a white dress and matching jacket, with a textured fabric, shiny buttons, not too bad. But it was way too tight. I was afraid I’d pop the seams.
Another call: “Do you like it?” ‘Yes”.
“Does it fit?” “No, unfortunately. I really appreciate your time, but I will just wear what I had planned.”
“No, I have already arranged a way to exchange it with the shop. I will come at 7 am to pick it up and go to exchange it.”
Now, the ceremony was at 9 am the next morning, and the Secretary of State (did I MENTION the Secretary of State?) was coming.
Meanwhile, as the clock ticked past 8:30 on Saturday morning, and all around me the elegant persons gathered, I was there in my Capris and T shirt, wondering how close we could push it.
Well, at 20 of 9, the young woman arrived with a remarkable garment. Silvery gray, three sizes too big, a slippery blouse AND SKIRT (did I mention that skirts aren’t a good idea), with a beautifully ornate jacket – lots of ruching, double collar, shiny silver. I dashed into the bathroom to put it on.
The skirt fell off. Onto the floor.
“Is it going OK?” from outside the bathroom door.
“It is too big and it is falling off.”
“Oh my ****” I heard from the other side of the door, “I am so sorry!”
“It’s OK, I can PIN it.” So I held it up while racing back to the dorm (only 100 feet away) to get pins.
I stepped into the procession AFTER the choir, instead of before, but walking in with our seven honored freshmen, just in time.
I hope that now when you look at the photo you will really enjoy this garment. It is indeed VERY Fancy!
I had occasion to reflect about what sort of appearance I was making, after the ceremony, posing for photographs. I think it was a little bit like Mr. Wizard, a character I remember from an elementary school science movie – white and shiny, slightly unreal. Also, HOT.
Then I reflected that, if I were in a culture that had any local, native wear, such as a sari, or a djellaba, or a kimono, I would wake up to the possibilities! I would be honored to be invited to put it on! And that was exactly what this was.
I DO definitely feel honored, to be fussed over so, and to be dressed so elaborately!
First-year students all in green; second-year students in white and green; M. Gerald Oriol Jr, Secretary of STate!, and Dean O’Flynn – PRISE D’HABIT, 6 May, 2017