Sometimes it just hits me. I am not in Africa. I am looking at a lush beautiful backyard (not the desert scrub that was Senegal) and I have everything from running water to air conditioning and an overstocked grocery store within a mile of where I live. Yet my heart pines for Africa. Or at least my Africa: Senegal. Senegal is not “beautiful” by conventional American definitions of beauty. As I was preparing to go so many years ago I was told, “You might want to think of someplace else. You like clothes and makeup and shopping way too much! Africa is hot and dirty! You will never make it there!” That did not deter me.
My first excursion with a new Senegalese friend after my arrival was to an open air on the ground fish market. I dressed appropriately. I wore a t-shirt, jean skirt and flip flops. I was prepared for smell, dirt, and yuck! My friend showed up at the door, took one look at me and said, “I will not go anywhere with you looking like that!” It was my first introduction to the fact that Senegalese women (and I have learned since then women the world over) appreciate beauty.
In fact, dressing and presenting oneself appropriately is so important to Senegalese women that there is a word in Wolof for a shopping excursion and the way it is carried out. It is called doxuntu. It basically means that you dress up, go to the markets, walk around, look at what is being sold, sort of turn your nose up at things that don’t measure up, and you buy nothing! When the jaaykats (sellers) try to entice you, you say Mangi doxuntu rekk! (I am just window shopping!) But he knows that if you find the perfect beautiful addition to your wardrobe, you will say, Naata la? (How much is it?)
That first time with my friend, after her remarks I went and changed and then went and doxuntu. I LOVED it. It was me! And I thrived! I thrived on the tailors. I thrived on the hunt of the perfect fabric. I thrived on doxuntu and turning my nose up at what was less than perfect!
Now here I am thirty years later. Can you believe it? Thirty years! And I still thrive and am energized by the beauty and the fashion and the artistry of women from the country I love. May I introduce you to two of them? Two of the women who directly inspired our first collection launching in the spring of 2017? Look for the next two blog posts in this mini-series for their stories and how they inspired me then and continue to inspire me now!