Africa- a journey of constant new discoveries and rich new experiences.
From the very beginning since I arrived in Ivory Coast, I was drawn to the women here. Perhaps, because I could relate to them when everything else was foreign or may be, because they were such a contrast to the stereotypes of women I have grown up with.
And it is not the colour of the skin that I refer to. Contrary to the norm in the West and now even, Asia, big is beautiful here. The women, generally speaking, believe in eating well and maintaining buxom bodies. One cannot help but admire the confidence they ooze as they flaunt their generous curves, large built and strong forms in sassy attire. Rising bosoms meet plunging necklines and abundant posteriors fill out fitting skirts in a bold statement that celebrates their femininity.
With complexions ranging from milk chocolate to midnight black, many of them are blessed with high cheekbones and ivory-smooth skin. Add large-almond shaped eyes and you have a beauty that is waiting to be captured by an artist.
The class, the background, the standing in society- none of it matters. The maid, the cleaner, the salesgirl may change into practical clothing when at work, but when it is time to step out, they don their most stylish outfits to face the world. With her well-coiffured head, chic attire and classy handbag, the African woman will leave you hard-pressed to identify her religion or status in society.
Talking of coiffured heads, the African tresses are an altogether novel matter. With a natural growth that is rough and thick, tight braids offer a solution that keeps the hair in place for weeks together. Women may also have their thick crop braided with a blend of coloured extensions, bestowing beautiful hues in all shades upon their crowning glory.
Alternately, one may just opt for a mop of artificial hair. Fashionable wigs in all shapes, sizes and colours abound in the bigger cities offering good business to shops that specialize in manes. It is quite a challenge for an outsider, to gather from a single glance whether a woman is sporting natural hair, an artificial crop or an amalgamation of the two!
When it comes to clothing, the typical attire for an Ivorian woman is a snug, often off-shoulder short blouse, combined with a mermaid-like fitting long skirt. A strong scarf tied around the head may serve as a turban, and is more commonly seen among older women. The colours and designs of their garments are loud, big and cheerful, just as they are. The reds, yellows, oranges and bright blues with large circles, huge flowers and vast patterns complement their vociferous, jovial nature.
The broad-minded culture does not only reflect in their clothing, but also in their way of life. Having children by the dozens is not uncommon, neither is a variety of fathers for their litter. Marriages are not seen as essential and sometimes take place when they are much older and already have a substantial brood of offspring. Ivorians have equal measure of Christians and Muslims. It is the Muslims especially, who don’t flinch from having multiple wives or different families in different cities!
Strong and hardy, women don’t flinch from work and can be seen performing all kinds of tasks in myriad professions. They do not let their little ones encumber them in any way.
Strapped tight around the backs of their mothers, these tiny tots don’t bawl, but gaze out from their vantage point at the world, unfazed, and even fall off to sleep right there, suspended on faith and love!
The women here inspire me and this is what they’ve taught me:
You can be beautiful, but you don’t have to be fragile. Be robust, resilient and hard-working!
You can be sexy, but you don’t have to be skinny. Be proud of and flaunt your curves!
You may be underprivileged, but you don’t have to be downcast. Be cheerful and merry at all times!
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Piyushi Dhir is the author of 'In Search of Love', 'I'm Yours, The Next Time', 'Silent Promises' and 'Enmeshed Evermore'. She is a contributor in 'Nineteen Tales of COVID-19', a collection of short stories. A voracious reader, a keen traveler, a businesswoman and a mom, Piyushi currently resides in Canada. A nomad at heart, she loves to discover new places and capture the hues of life with her pen.