Tuesday January 29 2013

What trouser waists say about the Ugandan man

By David Sseppuuya

A small confession: On occasion, I have had to fight the temptation to tag a little on the loosely-secured trousers of a randomly picked young man and see what would happen with the pants, and how he would react. Restraint and repentance have won (thus far).

I do drive along the Entebbe highway every day and keep wondering about what’s going on in the minds of the young men, with ‘balanced’ trousers, who clamber over the rail that divides the dual carriageway. You see that rail was designed to prevent pedestrians from wantonly crossing the road, with proper zebra crossings and pedestrian bridges provided, and so anyone climbing over it would have to do quite some dexterous bodily and garment gymnastics. For women jumping the rail implies strictly no busuuti/gomesi, while for men it calls for a well-secured belt.

But contemporary fashion has brought on the phenomenon of ‘balancing’, which requires either no strap at all around the waist or, at best, an under-employed belt (the generational interpretation of undergarments has changed, thus we now see other people’s underwear, kundis/navels, ill-placed tattoos).

I would classify Ugandan men’s waists and their corresponding trouser styles in four categories:
• Low-slung, ‘balanced’ mid-way the bum
• Conventional, ‘I know my waist’
• High-slung, above-the-belly button
• Suspenders, with no belt.
Those categories also roughly correspond to age groups, and with them social-economic achievement, and a mentality or psychology.

The low-slung trouser fellows tend to be between 14 and 27 years old, with a hard-boiled attitude. They have a take-it-or-leave-it mentality, are not yet certain of what direction life should take, and generally seek or take the approval of only their peers.

Their thoughts when you disapprove: “Stuff it!” (I was once a teenager myself, and I remember wearing slashed jeans, with the names of my favourite footballers, and a girl, written all over). This low-slung ‘balancing’ group are, on the whole, unsure of what to do in life or about life.

It has S4 and S6 vacationists, campusers, early career professionals, one hit musicians and other pseudo-celebrities. One preacher I heard in church linked the ‘balancing’ fashion to people of certain sexual orientation – I am not sure that that message sunk to any depth, or let alone how legitimate it is, but who knows?
I would say, though, that if there is any blame to throw around for the entire ‘balancing’ thing, it should be squarely on President Museveni.

You see, he ushered in peace, opening the way for loose trousers. In the days I was a teenager, before Museveni took power, even if they had been there we could not have afforded to wear ‘balancing’ trousers, as the insecurity of the day frequently resulted in sudden announcements of duka, duka kimbia, kimbia (run, run). The security-conscious Ugandans of the time had to have properly secured trousers, didn’t they? With everyone running their own direction at the slightest rumour in town, the ‘balanced’ trousers would be the only ones with a definite direction – down to the ankles.

The conventional waist line is the average guy, for whom life is moving but maybe not quickly enough. He is likely to be a mid-level civil servant, a middle management professional, a contented teacher, in an average age group of 32-52 years. For this lot, life though okay can be a grind, with the odd excitement coming only with a promotion or an overseas trip. Security of job is reflected in security of belt around the waist; security of person is in right-fitting clothes.

The third group, with trousers belted above the belly button (the very antithesis of the girly kundi show), could be the Congolese musician or a prosperous pastor, aged 45-60. This is the “Now I have emerged” sort, typified by the newly rich Kikuubo merchant or shopping mall-constructing tycoon. This group buys over-sized clothes. In the 1970s, they would likely be the mafuta mingi merchant class.

The fourth group wear suspenders, like in classical movies. They are the ‘I have made it, happily retired, no need to work, enough grandchildren and sufficient investments’ group with age range 65-75 years. Like the young ‘balancing’ guys at the other end of the spectrum, these guys also may not own a belt – suspenders are sufficient. Wearing suspenders reeks of power and authority. I suspect many in the Ugandan Cabinet fall in this category, though I have not espied suspenders on our ministers’ torsos (it is unlikely that any minister is ‘balancing’).

It really is a Pyramid of Waists – broad at the bottom, narrow at top, moving up the anatomy. The bigger group – the young men – are at the bottom and there is a tight, if sub-conscious, battle to climb up to the narrow apex of the pyramid. Man, where do you belong? Myself…….just pass me my belt.