With a new culture comes new clothes; that's almost a given. When I lived in France, I found myself making darker colored wardrobe choices, ditching my t-shirts, and never leaving the house without snazzy shoes and a scarf. Guinea is a different story. If I could dress for the weather here, I'd be wearing shorts and tank tops constantly, with a little skirt action thrown in for dressier occasions. Unfortunately this is West Africa, and there are certain wardrobe rules I have to follow.

Most importantly, NO KNEES. This one was told to us on several occasions before departure, but the reality of constantly hiding your knees doesn't really hit home until you've spent a day in training, sweating through your pants. In a country that is about eighty percent Muslim, pants or skirts for girls need to cover your knees when standing and sitting. Most women around town here wear a pagne, which is essentially a floor length heavy cloth wrap. My host family was kind enough to lend me one, and I spent half a day trying to walk normally in it before I realized that it constricts my stride to about one tenth it's average length. I was also terribly paranoid of the whole thing coming undone and falling to the ground, so I death-gripped the sides of it as I walked around town with my host siblings. Surprisingly, the pagne is hotter and heavier than wearing pants here, and my legs were soaking with sweat for the remainder of the day. Though it did not make my list of fun things to do in Guinea, I'll probably be putting it on again, as I made numerous good impressions with random Guineans on the street, who were very excited to see me wearing the local style.

Shoes and tops are a different story. Though we were told to bring mostly business casual for training, the Guinean version of business casual is quite different from ours. Around town, a lot of people go barefoot, and for us, virtually any shoe is acceptable. (I never thought that I'd be sporting chacos with my business capris and button downs...here it works.) As for tops, well, at home a lot of women just don't really see the point. And by at home, I mean in the house, on the front porch, out in the yard - all acceptable places for Guinean women to go bare breasted. I even saw a woman take off her top and readjust completely at a wedding I passed in the street. I've stuck with my shirts, but its really baffling to see such conservative outlooks on legs and the opposite for the chest.

The colors of the women's outfits here are very vast and vibrant, and matching really isn't an issue. My host family was very generous and got me my first African fabric to have an outfit made. This past weekend, one of my host sisters took me to a tailor, which was actually just a house with a woman who had a push pedal sewing machine in her bedroom. I had my measurements taken, and my fancy wear should be ready by next week.

As for hair...well... Most women keep their hair in braids, and the braiding is a neighborhood event, especially when it's a white girl getting her hair done. My host sisters and neighbors were very excited when I consented to having my hair braided this weekend, and I sat on the porch for four hours as they pulled all of my hair into tiny, tight braids. I've had lots of compliments on "mes tresses" so far, but to me it just looks super silly, and I feel like white girl from the hood.

So, as a braided foté, I'll leave you with the one English phrase almost all young Guineans seem to know: Big up! (Pronunciation: "Beeg Opp!")