People waiting in North American airports this holiday weekend will tend to be a pretty sloppy looking bunch. Part of that is because of the sloppy way passengers are treated, but also in the years since airplane travel became a middle-class commonplace, the idea that one should dress up to fly has gone the way of real meals on flights. In Africa I found that not to be the case. In fact, I found that any travel experience brought out the festive in people: women who road the intercity buses I took in Tanzania were as carefully dressed as those on my flights from Bujumbura to Nairobi and from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam. Whether they were wearing well-cut dresses with jackets or brilliantly coloured robes and wraps, they looked lovely.
My own travel clothes tend toward the very practical: easily washable light weight trousers and skirts, a couple of long sleeved shirts, tee shirts, a jacket that matches one of the skirts. Not dressy enough, though, I realized when I saw the looks women at the Cathedral in Bujumbura gave me on Sunday when I lingered with worshippers outside. The cotton trousers and matching cotton knit top which I thought looked pretty smart definitely were not what was considered proper. Clearly, their looks said, I should be wearing a skirt, and afterwards I wore one more frequently. Of course, I would never look like I belonged, but at least I could look like I respected the Burundais enough to conform to their standards of dress.