My Jacket for Dresses

Sept 2010 – by Michele Miles

Driving my friend Victoria through downtown Boise and I spot a fellow on the sidewalk sporting a royal blue jacket with orange stripes down the trunk.  It is a familiar jacket boasting the Boise State Bronco colors.  It is a jacket similar to the one I traded away in a Kenyan Masai market a few years back.

The Masai market: open Fridays on the top floor of a European shopping center in NE Nairobi.  It is a familiar stop for the teams that travel to Kenya with Expansion International. Native African art and crafts skillfully carved and woven lie in various piles on the floor with vendors inviting you to look and buy.  I have several items throughout my home from this market – baskets, wooden bowls and spoons, artwork and blankets that mark the tribal villages of the Masai warriors. From the many visits, I know some vendors by name and others by their smiles.

Back in 2008, following the Fiesta Bowl run by Ian Johnson, my teammates and I were walking past the tradesmen and barters of that same market.  I was wearing my royal blue Boise Bronco jacket when my eyes caught site of some beautiful fabric.

“Dresses!  Kenyan dresses,” I thought to myself.  And I wanted one – or two.

I was looking to increase my wardrobe.  Fingering the various styles and weavings, I pulled out colors that would suit me best. Course, tribal colors are important too. And I felt the eyes of the woman who was in charge of this pile watching me.  She began the bartering – “they are beautiful, yes?”

“Yes, they are!  How much are they?”

“How many would you like?” she teased.  “Buy three and I give you the best price!”

“Oh no, I only need one…how much?”  I said, while looking for a sticker price

“Where are you from?” she asked

I knew too well that I could not say Japan or China.  My red hair and freckles are a dead give -away.

I really wanted to say I was from Ireland and thought about changing my tongue to a brogue, but knew she would quickly learn from my American teammates, that I am indeed American.  Darn, there goes my bargaining power.  “I’m from the US?”

“New York!” she exclaimed
“No, no, no – from the other side of America.  From Idaho,” I relented
“Idaho?” she sighed quizzically, “I don’t know Idaho”
“It’s by California.” I try to help her mind locate our small northern state
“You’re from Hollywood!”  She exclaimed
I laughed heartily, “Oh no! Not Hollywood, Idaho.”  I returned.  “How much for this dress?”
“For you, 1200 shillings,” she speaks as if to be giving me the favor of the day
“1200 shillings!”  I go back to the bargaining, “ I’ll give you 500 for two”

Her frown was clear.  Shaking her head and dismissing me with a “tzie” – a sound made when the tongue is pulled away from the lower teeth, she states, “Now you offend me Hollywood.  500 does not even cover the cost of the material for one dress let alone the work to make it.  How much do you have? I will give you the best deal.” She persisted.

I looked in my purse – I had nothing.  Well, I had a few shillings to pick up gifts for friends in the US, but not for me personally.  Now what do I say. I initiated the bargaining and have no money to buy. She will be angry.  Then came a shout from somewhere down the crowded market, “GO BOISE!”      It was loud enough to startle us both.  Some white fellow from Chicago shook his fist in the air in recognition of Boise’s incredible win over Oklahoma. Then a young man from behind the woman recognizing the Bronco head on my royal blue jacket, smiled and said, “ahh, go Boise! BoiseFootball.”

“Aha, I could offer my jacket”, I thought to myself. Thus began the hour long lesson in bartering. I came away with two dresses for my famous jacket.  The world became smaller and our smiles much stronger.

Driving Victoria, my new immigrant friend from Tanzania, through Boisetown, and I think back about handing off my jacket in exchange for two Kenyan dresses.  I’m reminded of the incredible trade God made for me so many years ago:  His Son Jesus for my sins.

Michele with one of the dresses she traded for at the market

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