Where can I even begin on this? I didn’t pack many clothes. I was told before-hand that I could get stuff made and I was ecstatic. Some simple skirts and shirts would serve me well and would also provide some souvenirs upon my return home.

So into Gbarnga to buy lapas (colorful cloths) and then to a tailor one of the volunteer’s uses. I was exuberant. I pointed out the desired styles on various posters spread across the table on her front porch, had my measurements taken while a bottomless toddler stared quizzically at me, and off I went to wait for my Wednesday pickup.

Finally I was going to be able to retire my brown skirt for a little while. Finally I could break out a few of my other skirts that lack appropriate tops. Only…the tailor was rouge and her measurements faulty. Enter a parade of skirts, that although largely not what I asked for, were cute. I began to recalibrate myself to South Africa…don’t sweat the small stuff cuz there is enough big stuff to go ‘round. The big stuff emerged in the form of the tops.

I had picked both the colors and the patterns of the tops carefully. I needed solid colors rather than prints so that they would be useful to mix and match, and simple because I’m not much about ruffles and flash. Enter the first top. It fit oddly across my shoulders and wasn’t the most flattering of cuts, but doable.

Next … enter a thin manila colored cloth meant to go with my peacock skirt (among others), she lined it with something striped so that I resembled a referee ready to call a flag on the fashion play. the stripes were accented with a wide printed lapel and space enough for breasts – if i were prepubescent and my boobs were at my collarbone.

But the ultimate example of my disappointment and sense of humor has not yet been described. I searched diligently for a solid orange lapa. I pissed off many a market lady as I bought only one lapa at a time rather than the usual three or tried to mix and match the lapas I wanted. But I had visions of an orange shirt I could wear with multiple skirts and simply because…well, it is orange.

Imagine my surprise when what greeted me was not a plain orange shirt but an orange shirt with colored and puffy short sleeves adorning each arm and a colorful tie ready to be bowed at my back. While definitely not horrible (in South Africa my yele was an understated navy with an obnoxious gold glitter brocade at the arms and across the chest) it was more than I was expecting. Fancy shook her head while BushDiva rocked in her chair unsure of where to begin her commentary.

For my part, the excitement dripped away like the sweat on my brow. I figured I’d wear the skirts and continue searching out readymade tops. But the absence of water left me in circumstances that would change all that.

I need to wash. Most likely I’ll wash often here. I don’t have a lot of clothes and it is hot here. I sweat. The dust and mud kick up. And even after I wash it takes some time to dry in the already saturated air. But washing is water intensive and so we usually reserve it for when water is running plentiful through our pipes. But like I said, no water. No water means no washing.

So, readying for work today, I looked down at my choices and resigned myself to a puffy-sleeved fate. BushDiva zipped me up (the zippers are all placed in places that don’t allow me to dress or undress myself) and smiled repeatedly. I noticed the top was snug, leaving little room for my ample bosom but I figured it would loosen over the course of the day or I would get used to the new feeling.

Some things you can’t get used to.

I was called to a 10am meeting at around 10:15. By 10:30 I was eager and excited to be a part of what would prove to be a four-hour meeting in a hard wooden chair in a screened in porch with no breeze. The first two hours weren’t exactly easy, but I was able to concentrate and participate. By what should have been lunchtime (no one seems to eat lunch here) I was having trouble breathing.

My first thought was asthma, and I contemplated pulling out my inhaler, but after roughly 20 years as an asth spaz I can read my signs and it wasn’t a wheezing thing. Rather, it was a constriction thing. The more I concentrated on my breathing the more I realized that my cantaloupe-sized breasts were shoved inside an egg crate which was in turn pushing against my lungs. Think opening scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.

And I must have looked like I was going to swoon because BushDiva raised a concerned eyebrow at me over the table to check in. I responded by hiking up the front of my shirt so that the part at the bottom, with excess material, could provide more space to my plastered breasts. This really only resulted in me looking like a crazy person. Bright orange material crumpled under my neck; me, slunk low in my chair; puffy sleeves still visible in my peripheral vision. It wasn’t a good look.

By the time the meeting ended I was ready to burst. I made it home in time to avoid that fate but I won’t be wearing the orange constrictor again.

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