Thursday, July 1, 2010

Les Courtouriere

On Monday as part of our language and cultural training our instructors took us on a field trip to the local les coutourieres (seamstress) Our instructors have emphasized once we get “to our village” we will need to dress professionally when we go out to meet with people. Our Togolese instructors set a very good example every day on how to dress, and how to act professionally. They are always dressed in very nice African print, Togolese clothes. We can wear the typical PCV attire around our house, and when we go into Lome’ or on in-country trips, but when we are going to meet anyone for business reasons they encourage us to wear professional Togolese clothes. So…as part of our training, we went to the seamstress, and found out all about the styles, how much clothes cost, how long it would take to have them made. Part of the training was to discuss and ask questions about all of this with the coutouriere in French. When we returned from the field trip we were quizzed on our findings, and whether or not we were prepared to go and order one or two African ponya’s for ourselves.

You can find tailors (male) and coutourieres (females) throughout the village(s). This is a well respected profession in Togo. We went on this particular field trip in groups of two or three volunteers, each with one Togolese instructor. Going to the couturiere was also very culturally informational. After we met with the seamstress, and she explained styles and prices, we went next door to a room that had eight to ten young girls, all stationed at very, very, very old sewing machines, or they were hand stitching. They all had nice crisp blue blouses on and dark skirts. It was explained to us that they were apprentices, and that they would apprentice for three years, and then either open their own shop or go to a bigger city like Lome and work for someone. This is a good example of a woman owned business with apprenticeships, that has all of the elements Peace Corps Togo is trying to implement. In some villages we will help a small business like this make more of a profit by teaching the entrepreneur bookkeeping skills or showing them how they might get funding to start an apprenticeship program for local youths. However the courtouriere I visited already had a thriving business and apprenticeship program. She was well established, and very self confident about her business.

Many of the volunteers have already had outfits made, and it is practically required that we get a special Togolese outfit made for our swearing-in on August 5th. I’ve enjoyed seeing the clothes that both the men and women Togolese instructors and professional business people wear. Often the men instructors will wear a full African outfit, long shirt and pants both made of the same fabric with bright colors and African prints, and then often they will wear western slacks and just an African print/tailored shirt. The women usually wear two piece African print outfits; skirts that are usually mid-calf in length, and tops in the same fabric, in a wide variety of styles. This weekend, or early next week I’m going to go to the couturiere and have a couple outfits made. It will be challenging for me to find an African fabric and style that I like. Just like so many new things that I am experiencing, a new way of dressing is a cultural adjustment. There is a little part of me that rebels against losing or temporarily giving up my western identity by becoming more and more part of the new culture that I’m living in. Everyday my life gets more and more immersed into the African culture.

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