The Pagne Post

In honor of Halloween (which will be celebrated this coming weekend with my stage), here are some reflections on pagne, the patterned fabric one buys in this country and then takes to a tailor in order to make clothes. The patterns range from over-the-top to less-over-the-top and aside from geometric designs, I have seen present pagne, high heel pagne, chicken pagne, snake pagne, and so forth. Furthermore, there are pagnes for every holiday such as World Teacher’s Day, International Women’s Day, Independence Day and Youth Day. One can even find fabric printed with President Paul Biya’s face.

With this wide range of options, upon seeing the egg and sperm pagne, I decided I needed to make a dress out of it and be Ms. Frizzle for Halloween. (Because The Magic School Bus Discovers the Reproductive System is the only episode really missing from the series.) Throw in a lizard from outside my window and allow my hair to fully embrace the humidity here and volia.

Thus, after class last Thursday, my friends and I went to market in search of our Halloween costumes and pagne. The scene in every pagne shop went as follows:

Me: Bonsoir Madame/Monsieur! Ca va?

Shopkeeper: Ca va bien. Merci.

Me: Avez-vous le tissu avec les spermes et les œufs?

<Insert blank stare from Shopkeeper>

Je pense qu’il étais créé pour une fête maternalle.

<Insert me acting out sperm and eggs with my hands>

Il a les spermes masculines et les œufs feminines.

Shopkeeper: Ahh Mmhmm. Il n’y a pas. Va <Insert some random new store to try>

Me: Merci beaucoup. Bon soirée!

End scene. Repeat 4-5 times.

Eventually, I gave up on the sperm pagne for the day, but I did find some snake pagne and decide to be a witch doctor instead of Ms. Frizzle. Of course, negotiating is always a struggle when you are la blanche.

Shopkeeper: 14,000.

Me: 14,000?! Mais j’ai besoin uniquement de 3 metres! 5000.

This goes back and forth for some time. I finally get the price down to 9000, but the principle of the matter dictates that I need to get it down to 8000. So we leave. Outside, my friend/fake hubby (it’s easier to deflect marriage proposals with one) decides he’s going back in to try. Five minutes later he come back holding the pagne in the victory. Apparently he just asked him why—Pourqoui mon frère?—and worked his magic.

Other pagne reflections:

-Don’t forget to negotiate with the tailor too.

-Bring pictures of the clothes you want to the tailor.

-If the pagne isn’t good quality the ink will bleed when it gets wet.

-If you want to wear the clothes back in the US, without them taking all the attention in the room, it’s all about the subtle pagne borders, parts, etc.

-Negotiating ability of la blanche increases when wearing pagne.


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