In the Congo there is a cultural phenomenon known as Le Sape, short for Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, or the Society of Taste-makers and Elegant People.
“The Sapeurs adhere to a subculture of high fashion, often against a backdrop of extreme poverty. Many live in shacks bordered by stinking sewers in the southern suburbs of Brazzaville. Those of them who can work double jobs; those who can’t must beg, borrow and occasionally steal; whatever it takes to strut in Versace, Prada and Gucci.”
The cultural phenomenon appears to have begun with the singer and musician Papa Wemba, who adopted the flamboyant style of dress in reaction to the austere dress mandated by President Mobutu during most of his over 30 year reign.
“In a country where many survive on 30 cents a day,Papy Mosengo is flashing $1,000 worth of designer clothing on his back, (from his) Dolce Gabbana cap and Versace stretch shirt to his spotless white Gucci loafers.
“It makes me feel so good to dress this way,” the 30-year-old said when asked about such conspicuous consumption in a city beset by unemployment, crime and homelessness. “It makes me feel special.”
But Mosengo can scarcely afford this passion for fashion. He worked eight months at his part-time job at a money-exchange shop to earn enough for the single outfit, one of 30 he owns, so he’ll never have to wear the same one twice in a month. He doesn’t own a car. He lets an ex-girlfriend support their 5-year-old son and still lives with his parents, sleeping in a dingy, blue-walled bedroom that is more aptly described as a closet with a mattress.”
Meanwhile in America, a dozen or so companies have bundled first mortgages, and now commodities into a complicated Ponzi scheme so that they can maintain the illusion constant growth in a frenzied market of their own creation. They are already demanding the privitization of Social Security and Medicare because when the commodities bubble finally bursts they will have nothing left to gamble with.
At the same time. as a nation we spend as much on our military as every other nation on earth combined. We do so at the expense of our children, our health, our poor, our schools and our crumbling infrastructure.
But we dress real sharp.
Be seeing you.
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