The Secret Life of T Shirts
Lyra and I have now been here in Blantyre just over a week, and we are slowly settling in. I have yet to put my thoughts into any order, I am just a collection of observations and serious missing of the people I love most. Here, in traditional anthropologist field note form (a list), are the points of interest for this previous week:
1. Everyone is immensely polite and kind. My normal over-exuberant friendliness is somewhat hampered by my very slow and clumsy Chichewa. However, I have proudly mastered the paragraph long greeting, that is the necessary ‘hello’ to anyone you may meet. It roughly translates as this: expression of concern for your state of health on waking? thank you! health during lunch? thank you! condition of your children’s health since yesterday? thank you! and yours? thank you! [repeat].
2. All cheese tastes like suspicious cake.
3. I am very very lucky and extremely wealthy, whilst I had always (except first thing in the mornings) believed the former, the latter is a big shock to me. It wasn’t quite the same bumming about doing vaguely useful/fun things with all my tat in a backpack when I was 20. Whilst the disparity in wealth was obvious, I wasn’t living it. It wasn’t me at the top of the massive inequality skyscraper but some faceless industrialist or ex-pat. Now it is me living here, with such investment in my education behind me and the freedom and resources to do pretty much anything I want to, and the lovely family next door to us lives in two (very small) rooms. It’s breaking me a little bit. I don’t yet know how to be helpful in this situation; working out how to be kind and also respectful is tough. Especially at present, when my mental cultural map is still hand drawn in crayon.
4. All those T shirts your mother threw away in your childhood have found their way here. All those promo shirts for forgotten product tie-ins, rubbish bands and nerdy referential slogans are still at large. I saw this one guy with a really sharp suit jacket and a T’shirt for ‘Being Human’ (old C4 sit-com about a vampire and a werewolf sharing a nice flat in Bristol with a ghost). I’ve seen several small boys in Rainbow Brite and Cabbage Patch tops too. Can someone back home GPS tag a Moshi Monster shirt and we’ll see where it is in 10 years?