The Kenya shirt!
When I was in elementary school (I can’t seem to recall what grade I was in) the way our public schools functioned for Field Day was that each class chose a country to represent for one special day at the end of the year, where the kids ran rampantly outside under the hot sun, competing in meaningless activities that ultimately built up my childhood.
The class moms were designated to magically appear on the big day with t-shirts of all colors and sizes, carrying a big bag of Sharpie pens, for classmates to sign. The teacher’s pet was allowed to get the teacher’s signature too; the fastest runner in gym class got the P.E. teacher’s signature, and so on and so forth, in regards to the kids that had already discovered what they were good at, at a young age.
One year, my class’s country to represent was Kenya. I remember getting a presentation on Kenya’s history that I didn’t remember anything from. I remember grabbing Sharpies and demanding that my best friends scrawl their names in big letters on the back of my t-shirt; I remember shyly asking my elementary school crush to sign it. The Sharpie ink bled into my back, but I didn’t really mind.
Upon recollection, I remember almost nothing from Field Day that year. I hardly remember anything from any other Field Days, apart from the fact that I also have a France t-shirt in my drawer. Did Kenya win gold that year? Probably not…maybe? I don’t care, really.
I kept the child’s large t-shirt through the years because I liked the colors on the Kenyan flag which was printed on the front – red, black, and green, with a Kenyan shield and two spears in the center.
I wore the t-shirt as a sleep shirt every year, until this past summer. By that point in time, the shirt was faded with use, worn to a point of extreme softness, and very very old.
I found a Youtube video online demonstrating how to take old t-shirts and cut them into tank tops that you can wear in the summer. I believe that the Kenya shirt was the first one that I experimented with, and it was a surprising success! The edges frayed and curled up, the fabric was a tad bit low cut, but I was overall satisfied with my efforts and excited to start wearing a sentimental shirt of mine in public!
Lots of memories have been created with this piece of fabric. Whether it be sleeping in it starting as an elementary school kid, all the way up until my sophomore year of college, it’s a familiar piece of clothing. There’s not much depth or history to it, but I like the way that I know vaguely where it comes from.
After I had cut it up, I wore it out in public to a Starbucks, where I wore only a bright pink bandeau under it. The man sitting across from me asked what the occasion was. Puzzled, I asked, “What do you mean?”
He prompted me: “Are you going to gym afterwards or something?” I realized that he was referring to the cut up piece of fabric that I referred to as a shirt, and the pink fabric bandeau that was immodestly displaying my body. It hit me that even though I loved the look of the Kenya shirt on me, it was to be reserved for the most casual of occasions, preferably in the summer.
I remember once I read a story about a girl that started out with a sentimental patchwork quilt that her grandmother had created for her, and as the quilt got more and more worn through the years, her loving mother transformed the quilt for “new” purposes, with each alteration being smaller and smaller than the one before it. She started out with a quilt, which was then turned into a dress, which became a jacket, which was sewn into a vest, which was transformed into a pair of gloves, and finally, when the quilt had been renewed so many times that it was faded with age and threadbare, she turned it into a patch on a new quilt, that she sewed with love for her daughter. That story has stuck with me through the years; finally, I’ve found a way to relate to it!
All in all, this shirt originally meant less than nothing to me. Even though it hasn’t played a significant role in my life for the past decade or so, it’s in some aspects, better than something like a stuffed animal, because I actually utilize it, and just by looking at it, you could probably tell that it’s either been worn many times, or I just really like vintage shirts. It’s one of my favorites.
Just wait till the day that I turn this t-shirt-turned-tank-top into a tote bag…