This post was previously planned to be titled “What’s in a Dress?”, to explain the wonder I feel when I sit down in the lobby or the campus square in something so ordinary as my green adire outfit, and about four different students from Nigeria find their way one after the other from within the campus throng just to introduce themselves to me as Nigerian students. When asked the obviously needless question about how they came to pick me out of such a large bustling of students and scholars, the look at me and wonder back how I don’t already see the uniqueness of my appearance that stands me out. I have changed the title only because I have now fitted the regular occurences of those interesting things into a pattern of things that I can’t always be able to explain. Just whenever I start worrying towards the end of the day that something interesting might not happen to me, they always did, and I accept them with open arms.
The way of dressing and appearance, as I have now found out to my amazement, is actually a more serious endeavour than just mere fashion. They make a statement, and it is a part of losing one’s identity when one no longer finds it necessary to dress in the way of one’s people no matter where one is. Well, let me say that this is just my opinion.
On the night of welcoming us here to campus, at the party hosted by the International Hospitality Programme, I had engaged a senior Indian student in a discussion about the beauty of long Indian hair when I saw and complimented a beautiful Indian student who had just walked past. He scoffed my compliment and told me in a half-conspiratorial tone that “If you ask her, you’d most likely find out that she’s a first-year student. And that’s why she still looks Indian. By next year, she’d have become more Americanized, and she’d have cut off all that hair which now reaches down to her waist. You’ll see.” It sounded funny so I pretended to laugh it off, but thinking seriously about the charge. Could this be true? Indeed, all the older Indian students I know here have short hair. Could he be telling the truth? A few minutes later when the programme started, I got another chance to meet the lady in question and I asked her what her major was and her level as well. It was a wonder to learn that indeed she was a first-year student, and was just arriving in the United States. I asked her if she would ever think of cutting her hair off, and she said “no, never.” Sai however thinks that her response to me was just a standard response, the same kind I’m likely to get from all fresh students from India. It was just a matter of time before they all become Americanized.
Now how do Americans look? I really have no clear idea either, but I can tell you for sure that they don’t look a lot like I did today when I rode to school in an Adire attire. What’s in a dress/appearance anyway? A saying in my native Yoruba language can after all be loosely translated as: “A tree adorned in the most beautiful attire is not thus ennobled.”
Now as I was leaving my linguistics class taught by Kristine Hilderbrandt this evening, all stressed up and almost wishing that the requirement of my Fulbright programme didn’t include a necessarily class attendance for some Masters courses here in the University, but on the other hand also grateful for the rare opportunity, I was wondering whether there was anything else interesting that would happen to me before the end of the day, when I was accosted by this coursemate of mine from the same class I was just leaving. He’s an American graduate student who has been grouped with me in the first class assignment. He was animated, and looked a little overexcited. To be fair to him, he was just looking to make a conversation, but I wasn’t. I’d had enough work for the day and all I wanted to do was just go home and rest. As I zipped my bag and waited for him to say something smart, he shifted a little and stuttered out the words that first stunned, later amused, but absolutely tested my patience for just a little while before goading me homewards.
“Oh Cola, so how/when/where did you learn to speak in English?” He asked.
I never saw that one coming! But what can I say? I do lead an interesting life!