The Christmas mood was palpable and the cold harmattan breeze had stripped the large Iroko at my kindred’s play ground tree to the bare, and it was the oldest in my village. My big cousin had arrived from Lagos and we waited with batted breath for the unzipping of his big box which was loaded with goodies from the city. As I stripped my pack open, my eyes beheld a blue ‘jeams’ trouser as we kids called it then. It was my very first jean trousers; not really made of jean material but velvet which we called ‘velvetine’ and what else would you expect of a naïve village boy. My treasured ‘jeams’ trouser made its debut on was Christmas day and was worn only on Sundays till it faded. And I still have a childhood picture of my ‘jeams’ that reminds me of the good’ol days.
In secondary school I became fascinated by the socially conscious reggae music of Rastafarians; who were the true custodians of jean trousers, freedom fighters that rebel against the norm in fashion. They wore rugged jean trousers that were hardly washed that contrasted well with their dreadlocks that signed of their rebellion against ‘them Babylonian system’ that oppressed us the children of Jah that live in Zion. I dreamt of hanging my box guitar across shoulders, decked in jeans and bouncing like a true Rasta man.
But I was a church boy, who didn’t have the nerves to rebel like Rastafarians, and the little courage in me was snuffed out in med school where I was literally banned from wearing jean trousers, and any idea of growing a dreadlock became embalmed and completely dissected like the cadaver we toyed with during anatomy classes. The Babylonian system that my Rastafarian mentors hated imposed a dress code on us: Sartorially cut trousers, clean shirts with a tie to match which was hidden under the enshrouding cloak of the white ‘lab coat’ for which medical and paramedical students turned into a respected fashion symbol that stirred admiration in every other student in the university campus.
I found myself in a very conservative campus fellowship that made wearing ‘a shirt and tie’ the dress code for brothers and to add to my woes, wearing the almighty jean trousers was a taboo for the serious-minded ‘brethren’ like us. My childhood dream of wearing my ‘jeams’ and ‘dada hair’ was dealt a devastating blow and I gave up and accepted my fate till I graduated from med school.
But as an intern at UNTH Enugu, I saw a consultant anesthetician who had very long and aged dreadlocks; the type you’d find only in Jamaica among ‘Kaya’-puffing Rastafarians. He was a true rebel; had no ties and jean trousers were his companions. I was too stunned to not notice him. So when I started work as a physiotherapist National Orthopaedic Hospital Igbobi Lagos-with the famed ‘Okada Ward’- I began to dress down by wearing jean trousers on Fridays like a tamed rebel at heart that I was. At least a plastic surgeon I admired so much was always on jean trousers but he had no dreadlocks! So was not my ideal fashionista mentor.so the search continued!
My salvation came years later when I met a man I truly admired – Ben Okafor. He had long dreadlocks, strummed his acoustic guitar dexterously and boy, he usually wore rugged jean trousers, and was not even a Rastafarian, and didn’t puff nor smoke ‘ganja’ from a drum with his band. He spoke no patois and his reggae music was as avant garde as any root rock reggae vibes from Jamaica. Though ‘ Christafarian’ because he is a professed Christian, the vicar of a church in England where he once played a gig and gave a sermon on spiritual revival had asked the congregation to ‘pray’ for Ben ‘to cast out demons from his dreadlocked hair’.
But on the day he played a gig in my church in Lagos, rather than see demons flying off his dreads, streams of tears flowed from his eyes as he urged humanity to love one another with God’s kind of God. That Sunday, dreadlocked guys felt at home in the church!
But this redemption was transient. Few weeks afterwards, I left my hospital work as a physiotherapist and became a health program officer with an international donor agency. The dress code so changed that to look formal and appropriately-dressed for the endless meetings between the ‘government and donor partners’ and the numerous diplomatic dinners, I had to revert to wearing suit which overlaid my shirt and tie. What bondage. Though we do dress down in the public health and development field, the sartorial codes of med school still have a hold on so many of us that we are yet to break away from its bondage.
I still wonder what my oyinbo boss will do on a typical Monday morning when I’d resume for work wearing a pair of rugged jean trousers, with my now growing afro hair locked overnight into dreadlocks. Some days I will suit come to work clad in designers’ suits, sporting a well-starched TM Lewin shirt and a silky Gucci tie, with my then grown -up and matured dreadlocks cuddling my shoulders freely. I seem to hear a silent but confident voice within saying ‘nothing dey happen’ to douse any fears that my job will still be intact as no dress code was enshrined in the offer letter and contractual papers that I signed when I took up the appointment.
Not too long ago, one of the ‘brethren’ ran into one of the ‘jim jim’ brothers who had banned brothers from wearing jean trousers in the campus fellowship at Mile 2 bus stop. This ‘broda in da lord’ had shed the cloak of ‘shirt and tie’ and was clad in a pair of rugged jean trousers, and a branded T-Shirt, with his silver bling bling hanging freely over his neck. He had locked his hair and the dreads were strutting out like fashionable buds that will grow into mature seeds that will harvest longer dreadlocks in the coming months. He’s no Rastafarian, he has no acoustic guitar nor does he smoke a pipe of weed!