Life Without a Mirror

I’m regularly shocked, once a month to be precise, when I step out of the shower in our lovely Peace Corps Hostel and catch a glance of myself in the mirror. It’s not so much that I’m surprised by my horrible farmers tan or the large number of freckles that the sun has bestowed upon me. My astonishment derives from the fact that for the majority of the month, I don’t ever see myself. The back of my I-pod is shiny enough that I can pluck my eyebrows or judge if there are still white blotches of sunscreen covering my face, so I’m not entirely bereft of my reflection but I’m not constantly confronted by it either.

Me as Lady Gaga for Halloween with some Peace Corps friends

The decision of whether or not to own a mirror never really crossed my mind: I simply never bought one. But, now that I’ve lived almost six months without my reflection, I’ve decided that I sort of prefer life this way. I’ve come to terms with the fact that despite my best attempts to dress Nigerien, I will always be “strange-looking” in this country. Just as long as I keep my knees and hair covered, I can wear whatever I want without feeling as those I’m “unfashionable.” As I’ve quickly learned, in this country, a brightly colored shirt and a brightly colored skirt with a completely different pattern can still “match.”

It’s also been rather nice to have the entire village constantly telling me that I “don’t have a body.” Although they certainly don’t intend it as a complement and consistently do their best to feed me piles of millet, it’s a nice change from the anorexic magazine cut-outs/celebrities world of America that always seems to tell me that any bit of fat must be exterminated as soon as possible. In that way, Nigerien culture rather resembles the Victorian age when plump men and women were regarded as high-class because they could afford enough food to make them fat. While I certainly have enough money to add on a few pounds of millet, I think my preference for tofu and fresh vegetables (and their relative scarcity) is going to keep me strange-looking for quite a while…