On my first day in Bogota (a Sunday), I sat watching television with the head of mission here. Every other commercial was for a fat burning pill or a special halter that lifted your breasts up high so you could have better cleavage. It made some of the back braces I’ve seen seem comfortable. My traveling companion is Colombian and we had a discussion about the different standards that Colombian people have about their physical appearance versus the European and Norte Americanos who come down here. Colombian women favor close fitting stretchy clothes (really, no matter what their body shape is) and wear skinny spaghetti strap tops and skin tight leggings. They always seem to have long painted nails, immaculately done hair and makeup. It’s quite different here than the normal humanitarian crisis where the fashion du jour is baggy linen pants, tee shirts with the company logo, bandanas, hiking boots or tevas, and shapeless faded clothes. It’s sometimes difficult to tell if I’m at a Grateful Dead show or a humanitarian emergency.
She was outraged by the expatriates that seem to see it as a political statement to never bathe, to wear clothes filled with holes, and wild unkempt hair and beards. “It’s disrespectful to the people who make an effort to look clean and tidy no matter what their status.” I agree with her. I’ve heard (mostly men) make proud comments at meetings about how they won’t wear a suit or be dictated to by others. “We don’t wear suits! We come in looking like we have come straight from the field!” they tell me as they sit on tables rather than chairs and stomp around headquarter in downtown sophisticated Amsterdam in hiking boots, pants that zip off to turn into shorts, with crazed looking hair and beards.
The expats in Colombia still wear the “uniform” of faded tee shirt, linen pants, and sandals but the national staff here normally prefer to wear tight jeans, sexy tops, and the shapeless open logo’d vest over the top that can be quickly shed at closing time. The hair is immaculate and the make up is on. I think its starting to rub off at least on the female staff. I found this quote in a report from head quarters to the field.
“Colombia is a favourable country for different kind of (plastic) surgeries. For ex-pats this has shown to be attractive. However, as every surgery has its risk, it is recommended to undergo any elective surgery after the mission and not during holidays. “
Already I feel super frumpy in my baggy linens and tee shirt. I have taken care to wash my hear and apply product and makeup each morning but still the national staff seem to regard me with a sad and patronizing look for my inability to look like I’m on my way to a disco in 100 degree weather with 100% humidity in the middle of the jungle. My preference for organic fabrics and loose fitting clothes is at odds with the polyesther stretch outfits and short shorts here. At least I’m wearing lipstick and mascara!