Minnesota was never on the map for Kabuika Kamunga — until her father had a stroke two years ago.
“I flew from Paris to take care of him in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, where he lived,” she said.
Prior to that, Kamunga lived on three continents in seven years. Then, she said, she felt it was time to be near — relatively speaking — her father.
“So I applied for jobs in North America," she said. "That is how I ended up working and living in Southeastern Minnesota, 35 miles out of Rochester.”
Kamunga is a communications specialist with Mayo Clinic's Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity, and is managing editor of the department’s newsletter. As such, she noted that what she says outside of work does not reflect the views of her employer.
Beyond Mayo, Kamunga writes and publishes children’s books, and organizes the Kamunga scholarships for medical students in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in memory of her father, who was a Congolese pediatrician.
How would you describe your style?
It is simply being who I am. I would describe my style as being unconventionally, internationally me. Wherever I am in the world, whatever I am doing, my clothes follow suit to allow me to go about life in the most comfortable clothing possible.
Sources of inspiration?
My siblings and my fiancé. They are natural shoppers. So when I go and visit them, whether in Canada, France or South Africa, it is on those trips that I usually refill my wardrobe. My fiancé is a sapeur. That is the French term you call people who dress exquisitely well, because for them, life is about elegance and the full respect of oneself and of one’s clothes.
How has your style changed with your life?
When I was in college in Chicago, I wore baggy sweatshirts and sweatpants, with a blanket to wrap myself in while watching the sunrise on Lake Michigan. People thought I was homeless — someone even handed me a $20 bill.
I realized then that appearance, clothes were very important in society. In Paris, my siblings were always well dressed. In Kinshasa and Brazzaville, people may be poor, but they would always look good, and some would wear very expensive clothes. Traveling to those places rubbed off on me. Now I dress up a bit more, even if I still do it in the most comfortable way.
Please tell us what you wear when ...
If I am on a Zoom call working, I wear a dressy top with a comfortable pair of shorts, and am barefoot. Working remotely has been a blessing. Before, I had to wait to get to my desk at work to kick off my shoes.
When I go to town to go grocery shopping, I always put on a nicer T-shirt and nice jeans. You have to look decent when you go out. That is something I learned from my travels in the Congos.
If I am visiting a museum in Paris, I wear a pair of jeans with hiking boots to walk up and down the length of the enormous Musée du Louvre.
If I am flying, I wear sweatpants and a T-shirt with flip-flops and a scarf in case I get cold.
If I am having a face-to-face meeting with a government official in the Democratic Republic of Congo, then I wear a modest yet flashy African outfit that covers my body from my neck to my ankles.
The most essential component in your wardrobe?
Scarves. They are so flexible in the way you use them. The African version of that would be le pagne, a large piece of African cotton fabric that can be worn as a wrap skirt around the lower body or as a light shawl around the upper body, or even as a scarf around the head.
Unfortunately, I wore out my pagne, and will have to wait until I return to Central Africa to get some more. They’re much cheaper to buy there.
What should every well-dressed woman have in her wardrobe?
Pff! Anything she wants. We are each so different, with totally different styles. No rule applies to everyone.
Any priceless sentimental items?
Since I flew back to North America on a family emergency, I only brought with me the clothing I was wearing with a backpack on my shoulders. So I don’t have anything sentimental in my wardrobe.
Is there something in your wardrobe people would find surprising?
Is deodorant part of a wardrobe? I only use French deodorants; they smell so nice.
Please tell us about your favorite colors.
I wear colors according to Jyotish, the Vedic astrology where colors are associated with planets, with energy, and thus, with days of the week. This several-thousand-year-old system from India allows one to use colors to maximize the energy of the day.
I go through phases when I gravitate toward certain colors of clothes in a store — greens and luscious reds. Then I stop myself and say: “Wait! I need to get some beiges and yellows to wear on Thursday." That may sound funny to someone who is not familiar with the Vedic culture, but that’s OK. I cherish the diversity of cultures I encounter in the world. So I buy and wear clothing accordingly.
Black clothing is like the Bermuda Triangle for me. When I feel dizzy and weak, black clothing seems to suck my energy away even more so. It is almost as if I could disappear in it. So I just don’t wear all-black clothing.
If you buy something, make sure you absolutely love it. Because if it is beautiful to your eyes, then you will really enjoy wearing it.
Anne Murphy is a Rochester freelance writer who has been a professional journalist for more than 30 years. Do you know somebody who’s got special style? Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org with "Your Style" in the subject.