Oftentimes when I’m in my house I’ll roll up my pants or wear shorts especially if I’m cleaning or working out. However, if someone comes to my door I immediately roll my pants down or throw on a pair of pants over my shorts.
I have lived in my village for over a year and half and I have only seen ONE other girl/woman wear shorts. That was our star netball student who wore a pair of shorts longer than any pair of shorts that I own. That was only for part of the first term last year because she didn’t have the correct workout uniform (loose skirt that you tie around your waist, but many girls wore leggings under them because they were a bit flimsy). Our younger students will wear shorts at the annual sports competition but that’s a special event and not the norm.
Sure, of course I could wear shorts when running outside. That is if I want a million questions from my students. If I want more people stopping to stare from outside the fence. If I want more verbal harassment.
Even pants are considered ooooohhhhh! in my village. From time to time you’ll see young women (teenagers/early 20s) visiting the village and they’ll be wearing pants but other than that it’s pretty rare (maybe once every 3 months). There is one teacher who is from near Nairobi and from time to time she wears pants to teach but most of the time she sticks to skirts. Other than that pants are pretty rare for women in my village and I do see the locals talking about women wearing pants as they pass by.
However, because I’m a mzungu people tend to judge me even more than they judge a local. If you took me and a local woman and we wore the exact same outfit…we would probably get the opposite comments in terms of how much it cost, how nice it looks, verbal harassment, etc. I also want to show the locals that I respect their values and expectations and this is one of the ways I can do that in my village.
There have been times that I’ll wear my loose fitting workout pants (not yoga pants..those things are NOT flattering on me) to the village market to get something quick from a vendor only to have people gossip about my pants or get asked if they can have my pants.
A great example about women who wear pants in Kenya outside of cities that I’m borrowing from another PCV: This PCV had some sort of Kenyan volunteers/organization come to her school to educate deaf students about HIV/AIDs and I guess maybe one or two had HIV (I don’t remember the details). Apparently there was a point where two of the lecturers (women) stood up and asked the students to guess which one was HIV positive. The point of the activity was to show that you cannot always tell who is HIV positive. The students guessed one of the woman was HIV positive and when asked why…they said it was because she was wearing pants.
So I pretty much leave the whole wearing shorts in my village thing alone except when I’m in bigger cities running or hanging out on the coast. I can’t imagine what people would think if I wore shorts while running outside, they already think it’s crazy when they see a white woman running in pants in their village.
I keep telling myself that when I return that I’ll be able to wear shorts out in public while running and it’ll be accepted as the norm. Then I remember December = Winter = Snow = Cold = Extra Cold After Living at the Equator for Two years