Meet the Shalwar Kameez

Our volunteers in Bangladesh arrived in August and learning all about the culture and customs of their new home-- from the food and traditions, as Ramadan has just drawn to a close, to the clothing, as WorldTeach Bangladesh volunteer Kristen Kyslinger writes about below.

My packing list for Bangladesh advised that I not bring many Western clothes because I would most likely end up wearing the shalwar kameez, the typical dress of Bangladeshis. So I packed a couple t-shirts, tank tops, dress shirts, and stuff for hiking, and that was it. (Really, all my luggage consisted of was medicine and school supplies.) During our orientation, we were quickly introduced to a store called Aarong, where we got our first chance to shop for a shalwar kameez.

The shalwar kameez is a very comfortable outfit and ideally suited for the hot, humid climate here in Chittagong. It is a three-piece outfit, consisting of the orna (or dupatta), a scarf to modestly cover chesty lady-bits; the kameez, which is a long tunic with anywhere from short, half length, or full length sleeves; and the shalwar, which are baggy pants (and the trendy churidar, which are tight and bunched around the ankles to give the illusion of bangles). They can be simple, or embellished with all kinds of embroidery, sequins, beads, block print, and more.

Fellow volunteer Jessi and Kristen modeling at the university

Some of us have even been able to master wrapping our heads in the ultimate act of Muslim modesty. The orna can be worn many ways: around the head tightly or loosely, wrapped once around the neck, or draped so the loose ends are in the back.

They do help us fit in and make us feel more comfortable as foreigners. Heads are less likely to turn and stare (as much) when we walk down the street. Our skin and hair color are still clear giveaways, though, and rarely a week goes by where someone doesn't whip out their cellphone to take a picture of us because ohmigosh, we're WHITE!

Kristen, all dressed up on the rooftop

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