When Jeniffer Wothaya Wambugu, 34, wears the traditional attire from her tribe in Kenya, there's usually a message attached. At the gala celebrating the four decades that Jhpiego -- a Johns Hopkins University-affiliated nonprofit -- has worked to help improve the health of women and families in some 50 developing countries around the world, Wambugu did so to show the history and culture of the largest ethnic group in her country. "I'm a Kikuyu. You know, in Kenya, we have 42 tribes," she said. "Traditionally, the Kikuyu women used to dress the way I'm dressed. Now, we only wear it for special occasions and celebrations." At home in Nyeri, Kenya, Wambugu works as Kirinyaga County integration coordinating officer for a Jhpiego program, helping Kenyan women receive family planning services. "Because I'm [also] a youth adviser, I like talking to the young people, discussing with them about culture, and at the same time, about [Western culture] and how they can blend all this," she said. "[I do this] so they don't forget their culture." HER ENSEMBLE: Beaded headband with attached earrings and long strands sewn onto cloth strips that tie. "Women used to shave their hair. Currently, we are not. Then, they used to wear these [headbands]." Beaded necklaces -- some worn around the neck, and six worn cross-body, three on each side. Three pieces of cloth wrapped around the body, the outer piece decorated with beads and shells. Goatskin sandals. A goat-tail brush used in traditional dances. Dried gourd that was used to carry snuff. Bracelets around the wrists and upper arms. Ankle bracelets, including one with metal bells that is only tied around the right leg. THE ORIGINAL PURPOSE: "You are supposed to look beautiful while dancing. They used to attract men through dancing. Men would choose [a wife] when she was dancing. It would [improve] their chances in the [husband] market, also." To view of video of the Jhpiego party, click here.
Karen Jackson, For The Baltimore Sun