Feb 042009
 

ZANZIBAR–The streets of Stone Town are a feast of East African fashion. The more modest Muslim women float by in their bui-buis–long black robes beneath which the women seem not to sweat. (I’m told the elegant bui-buis often hide either short skirts and flimsy shirts or tracksuit pants and t-shirts.) And Christians and Muslims alike rock the kanga–brightly patterned, sari-like strips of cloth with Swahili sayings emblazoned at their feet. One size fits all, although I think my new Obama kanga is particularly slimming.

The best part of the kanga is the least accessible to me: the proverb. In a kanga exhibit at the local museum, I came across a kanga that sported this gem: “Mother, give me your blessings; living with people is really tough” (Mama nipe radhi kuishi na wata.) An equally wise kanga that my guide gifted me reads, “The world is not permanent, and you are just passing through”–a needed check on my Type A tendencies.

But not all of the kanga proverbs are so bongo (Kiswahili for “clever”). I couldn’t resist one that the saleswoman translated simply as, “Oh, wow!” I look forward to wearing it to spice up those otherwise lackluster Mondays.