As I slipped into the custom made, floor length dress a friend’s mother had made for me, I wondered if I was getting too fancy for the occasion. After all, it was graduation not prom.
My principal had asked me to give the invocation and benediction at my school’s commencement ceremony because, allegedly, people appreciated the Thanksgiving prayer I gave.
But, as I smoothed down the simple, leaf-patterned, column dress, I thought to myself I am in Venezuela and need to do how the Venezuelans do.
And thank God that I did.
I’ve written before about how I used to be a sloppy dresser. If it was clean it was going on, and if they were overalls even better.
Besides, the graduation was in the un-air conditioned school auditorium. How fancy could it get?
Oh, fancier than an Iggy Azalea song.
There was a blue carpet to walk up the aisle, two spotlights, a section for professional photographs, flower arrangements, and blue and white mood lighting.
As the fanciness of the event dawned on me, I got nervous. Despite graduating from an “elite” university, I still get anxious being around displays of wealth. I hate feeling like I need to follow a certain etiquette or code. I’m used to graduations in football or basketball stadiums where people still sneak in obnoxious air horns, you can’t see your family in the audience to save your life, and it’s just too big to be too formal.
But this is not back home.
Men came in suits. Women wore full ball gowns. There were feathers, trains, sequins, plunging necklines, cut-outs to flaunt the gym (or surgically) sculpted bodies, and heels. I was standing in a co-worker’s borrowed, black Mary Janes because no heels of mine made it to Venny while women breezed by in six inch heels.
And I do mean breezed.
I am thoroughly convinced girls are taught how to walk in heels as toddlers-not simply how to walk. The one student who wobbled in her heels was a student raised in the States who had just moved back to Venezuela. The rest of them could have had the Empire State Building strapped to the soles of their feet and been just fine. I spotted at least two pairs of Louboutins, which I will always associate with the corporate side of charter schools.
In the end, I think the real reason I get uncomfortable in such settings is because I don’t want to forget where I came from. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in the pampered life where I’m confused when there’s not a driver waiting to pick me up; when there’s not someone willing to translate for me; when there’s no buffer, just reality.
I got that real-life reminder amidst the ball gowns and suits though because my co-worker and I could not find a taxi back to our apartments. After all, it was a Saturday night.
As the parade of cars exited the school to head to the invite-only party at a fancy hotel, no one stopped to offer two women in heels a five minute ride back to our place (yes, I’m using the gender card!). Well, one offered and then rescinded the offer when he realized we weren’t going to the party. A different co-worker graciously offered to give us a ride, but we would be waiting at least another hour as he checked the grounds after the ceremony.
Then, up pulled two people who had planned the entire ceremony. Though they had probably worked more hours than anyone else organizing the celebration, they had not been invited to the party (in all fairness, I don’t teach seniors so it would’ve been unnecessary for me to be invited). Surprised that no one had offered us a ride, we clambered into their car and were off.
My head was beginning to hurt from the heat and hunger, and I had only fruit and white rice waiting for me back home.
“Would you girls like hamburgers?”
No sweeter a sound has come from a person’s lips.
“We thought you ladies wouldn’t eat at this hour.”
“We are today!” (My petite frame and fast metabolism makes people think I pay attention to what I eat. If they only knew.)
So, in our formal attire, the four of us went to a hamburger joint and ate to our hearts’ content. My simple hamburger came with beef, a slice of ham, cheese, ketchup, mayo, lettuce, tomato, and fried onions. Seeing how I’d just had crazy indigestion the night before, I prayed with each delectable bite that I would not be regretting this hamburger tomorrow.
After wiping our hands on the paper napkins, we drove back home content and happy.
I wouldn’t forget where I came from, but I could still enjoy–and even participate in–how the other half lives.