Archive for the Clothing / dress Category

Ginger beards

Posted in Clothing / dress, Culture on May 4, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Ginger is beautiful.

It is a common sight in Somaliland to see elderly men with their beards died orange from henna. Sometimes you see some pretty spectacular shades of orange; other times the dye-job is more subdued, or limited only to the tip of a goatee.

You only see it on old men, because of course their hair must be white in order to take on the colour from the dye.

Perhaps my Somali friends and readers can help me out here, as I’m not entirely sure of the significance of the hennaed beard – is it done simply to hide their white hair, or is there some deeper purpose or meaning? In any case, it looks pretty awesome.


Colourful women

Posted in Clothing / dress on April 22, 2011 by Home Strange Home

We aint in New York City any more.

When tourists travel to Europe, they usually go to see the buildings, the architecture, the monuments, the sculptures – the physical, immovable aspects of cities such as Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, or Barcelona.

Here in Somaliland, the draw is not the buildings, but the people. For the most part, the buildings amount to little more than peeling, tumbledown structures that frequently look flimsy enough to be wiped out by a heavy storm (if it ever came). The capital city, Hargeisa, is very dusty, dry, and monochrome. Not a single building or architectural feature stands out as being even remotely noteworthy.

Against this drab backdrop, the people – and by people, I mean especially the Somali women – stand out as bright bolts of colour that bring the city to life, like a string of shiny and dazzling ornaments hung on a dead Christmas tree.

A friend here referred to the women in their technicolor dresses as jelly babies, and indeed with their bold and varied costumes they look like a pack of delicious candies. Feast your eyes!

Henna hands

Posted in Clothing / dress, Culture on April 13, 2011 by Home Strange Home

A flash of beauty under all that fabric.

Most of my Somali female students dress in a way that almost fully covers their bodies and arms – either they wear the large, billowy direh dress, paired with the hijab Muslim headscarf, or they wear the full niqab veil which hides everything but their eyes and hands. Yet, despite all these yards of fabric concealing their skin and obliterating the natural shapeliness of their bodies, the Somali women still find ways to be attractive and alluring.

These expressions of beauty include brightly coloured and patterned robes made from silky, fine quality fabric; bling accessories like flashy handbags; sexy shoes such as sandal wedges or low heels (there is a limit to what one can walk in over the rough, unpaved roads here); an excess of (often gaudy) make-up; and, my personal favourite, hands boldly decorated with beautiful henna designs.

What I like about the henna here are the designs. The henna I have seen on women’s hands and feet in places like India, Morocco, and Tunisia was delicate and detailed, an intricate burst of finely painted swirls. But the patterns they paint here are much bolder, with thick lines, sold blocks of colour, and a geometric motifs.

Men in skirts

Posted in Clothing / dress on April 12, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Don't mess with us.

Somaliland is a hell of a long way from Scotland, but there is one thing the two countries have in common – men wear skirts. The Somali answer to the Scottish kilt is the macawis (or ma’awiis), a patterned piece of fabric that is sewn together into a tube and worn as a male sarong.

To put the ma’awiis on, the man steps inside the tube of fabric and pulls it up to his waist. The diameter of the tube is much wider than a man’s waist, so you then fold it to fit in the front, creating a pleat like with an Indian sari.

Once the cloth is folded close to the waist, you then roll the fabric at the waistline (like you might roll down the elastic band on a pair of track pants), thereby securing the waist and also adjusting the length of the fabric depending on your height. So, it’s one size fits all!

Now the only question that remains is… like the Scots, do Somalis go commando?

Clothes shopping Somali style

Posted in Clothing / dress on March 12, 2011 by Home Strange Home

Visiting the local tailor

One of the first things to get in order upon my arrival was clothing. As a woman living in Somaliland, I have to dress appropriately for a conservative Muslim country, so I went to the market to shop for traditional Somali clothing with the help of my female co-worker.

Unlike the western world, where almost all clothing save for wedding dresses is ready-to-wear, here in Somaliland almost all clothing is custom made. You go to the market to pick not a dress, but a fabric.

You then take the fabric to a tailor and indicate to him the style of dress you wish to have made; all of them are very loose-fitting and sack-like. This traditional type of dress is called a direh in the Somali language. A few days later, you go back to the tailor pick your dresses up. The cost of labour is so low, and the cut of the dresses so basic, that you only pay $1 per dress for the tailoring.  The fabric itself costs several dollars, depending on the quality.

Pick your fabric, pick your dress style

Because Somaliland is an almost entirely Muslim country, women must have their heads covered whenever in public. So women wear hijabs with their direh. I have learned how to cover my hair and head – first I tie my hair back into a low ponytail; then I tie a little bonnet over my head which keeps my hair in place; then I wrap a long, narrow, stretchy scarf around the bonnet for decoration; and finally I place a large shawl over my head, which covers my neck and shoulders.

When shopping at the market for dress fabrics, I also picked out matching scarves and shawls. Somali women are also expected to wear a petticoat underneath the direh, which is like a decorative slip. That way there is no chance of anyone seeing through your dress and catching a glimpse of your sexy legs. All of the dresses are, of course, down to the feet.

You see a large variety of dress and headscarf styles among the women on the street; I think it is a question of both religion and fashion. Many women also wear the abaya, a long robe-like over-garment that is draped from the head and drops all the way to the feet so that only the face, hands, and feet are exposed (some women even wear gloves to hide their hands). Like a nun’s habit, the neck and head are fully covered. Unlike in the Middle East, where the abaya are usually black, the women here are extremely colourful, so the drab dusty streets are decorated with bolts of swaying colour as the ladies walk past.

While it seems that so many layers would get quite hot in the 30 degree Celsius heat under the constant beating sun, from my experience it is actually quite comfortable and cool to wear such loose-fitting clothing; I don’t sweat that much at all. And your head, neck, and arms are protected from any chance of sunburn. So much for getting a tan.

My completed ensemble (and a random baboon)