Let’s talk burkas (or burqa). Traditional Arab women wear a full length, long sleeved robe and a long head scarf. The robe is an abaya and the scarf is a shela. There is sometimes a veil that covers the face. These are black. ["burqa" refers specifically to the veil.- PC] The more conservative the person is the less skin is showing. Some even cover their eyes with black lace or netting. Those of us from the West can’t comprehend why anyone would want to go about in this heat covered from head to toe in black. Well, my friends, it is even hotter than that because under these robes is often a very fancy beaded/embroidered dress made of chiffon, satin, crepe, etc., or blue jeans or other “outer wear.” The abaya and shela are worn out in public, as a form of modesty. At home, these women have just as much love of beautiful clothes as the rest of us, maybe more. I was amazed at the number of dress shops in the mall that have elaborate “walk down the red carpet” type gowns in them. Abayas and shelas also are often beaded and embroidered, sometimes subtly in black and white designs and sometimes very colorful designs. I had thought that always wearing a scarf/shela on one’s head would mean not having to worry about one’s hair. Oh no, fancy hairdos are lurking under those scarves. All the vanities are alive and well under all that black.
We in the West also assume that it is a form of oppression or suppression of women. Not necessarily so. In fact, it is the government’s policy to NOT hire a woman who has a veiled face. If she wants the job, she must give up the veil. Not to say that there aren’t instances of oppression, discrimination, etc., but the burqa isn’t the problem.
Clothing for both males and females is tied to rites of passage. The girls start wearing the shela when they enter puberty. Prior to age twelve, boys wear caps/hats, then after 12 they wear a head covering tied in a particular manner. A man does not wear the dishdasha with the black cords until he is married. Women do not veil their faces until after they marry, for then their beauty is only for their husband. Again, the shela, abaya and veil are only worn in public, not in the home.
We were walking through Toys R Us one day to escape the heat for a few minutes and saw a display of Barbies all in their pink boxes and their Western clothes. Being a smart aleck, I said to Daddybird – “and not one of them in a burqa.” Low and behold, in the next row of shelves was Fulla – Barbie in a full burqa (actually, I don’t think there was a veil). There was also a more progressive Fulla in pastel colored clothes and a floral shela. Marketing triumph!
I got rid of most of my short sleeved shirts thinking that I wouldn’t be able to wear them and that I would be able to find new clothes here that fit the work dress code. Oops! Actually, I could have kept those short sleeves and worn them as long as I had a pashmina (shawl) to cover my upper arms. Dang! Also, it is not so easy to find plus size clothes here. Even clothes marked XL or XXL are apparently for extra large Asians, not a giant American like me. Luckily, the Marks and Spencer across the street (a British company) had my size. I need a sewing machine now more than ever. Daddybird will be out of luck in the clothing department, too. There is supposed to be a Big and Tall store somewhere, so we will have to find out where it is.
I have been surprised by the clothing available in the malls. Today we saw a t-shirt that said “Be Free to Feel Yourself the Way You Want.” Not sure what that means and maybe I don’t want to. I suspect it’s just created by someone for whom English is not their first or even second language. We are often amused by labeling on packages, too. Back to clothes, most of the stores in the malls that aren’t selling abayas or fancy gowns, are selling skin tight tees, mini-skirts and jeans. All of which are inappropriate to wear here, if one is culturally sensitive. Clearly, many are not.
I brought only two pairs of shoes with me, sneakers and sandals. Only the sandals are appropriate to wear to work, but they were causing blisters. In fact, I had a blister on my blister. After developing a third generation blister in that spot, I told Paul I couldn’t leave the mall without a new pair of shoes. As with clothes, it is hard to find shoes in my size. I managed to find a pair that will do, but must find a Dansko distributer soon.