Sunday, February 9, 2014

Outing Sans Abaya

There is no written law that states that a Westerner HAS to wear an abaya.  The idea that most of us wear them came from the pressure of the mutawas, or religious police in Saudi that walk around ensuring strict adherence to established codes of conduct (offenders may be detained indefinitely; foreigners are not excluded).  Back around the time of the Gulf War there was an influx of Westerners into Saudi and the mutawa didn't like all of the Western influence.  To try to minimize our "bad ideas", there was an unwritten "rule" established that an abaya should be worn by all expat women.  Prior to the need to wear an abaya, Western women wore modest clothing that included a jacket or longer shirt that covered both the arms and bottom and was loose fitting as well as pants to cover the ankles. So really, the important thing was to be fully covered to wrist and ankles and to be modest with loose fitting clothes.
Knowing that an abaya isn't a MUST and always looking for a way to push the boundaries (or come up with something to blog about), I decided to give it a go to try shopping sans abaya to see what kind of experience it would be!  We were headed to a larger city called Khobar that is about 45 minutes away and I was already wearing "appropriate" moderate clothing (I had on loose fitting black pants and a loose sweater that was long so it covered my bottom) so I thought, why not?!?!  See, I don't usually fight the abaya because being able to carry that "dress" around in my car and throw it on last minute is really nice especially when it is 120 degrees outside and I'm wearing shorts and a tank top.... the last thing I want to do when I'm already hot and sweaty is go home and put on pants and a jacket... so abaya it is, the easy fix!  But since it is "winter" and I'm already covered, why should I cover more?!?!

The experience was good.  It actually felt "normal" if that is possible!  I walked in the store without my abaya on and with my head held high and shopped as if everything I was doing was "normal".  I got a few looks but not one person said anything to me.  The funniest reaction I got was from 2 boys about 10 years old.  They looked at me, did a double take, went down the aisle, and came back to look at me and went off gasping and  talking.  It was funny to watch!  But that was it... anticlimactic really... but that doesn't mean that the next time I try it or if I try the same thing in a different city or store that the reaction will be the same.  What I do know was that it felt good.... I liked that I felt okay being different.  I liked that I was making Saudi MY home too with MY feelings and beliefs at the same time as respecting their feelings and beliefs!  It made shopping a normal, every day occurrence.....the only thing different was that the prices were in Arabic.... and everyone around me was wearing an abaya or thobe! : )
From there the kids and I headed to Burger Fuel next door to order food before they closed for prayer time while Brad loaded up the car with our groceries.  I walked in like I was back in the States (which means I walked in the door forgetting to look for the "family door") to placed my order.... without my husband.  The guy then said, "Is this for take away?"  which I assumed was a question to which I responded, "No, we are going to eat it here."  Turns out he wasn't asking IF it was take away but was telling me it WAS for take away... see, this was a men's only restaurant, they didn't have Family Seating.  Double whammie, no abaya and no family section (triple whammie if you count the fact that I was without Brad)!  Well if you know me you know I don't just take "no" for an answer.  I explained to the guy that it was now prayer time which meant that they would be locking the door, closing the blinds, and no one else would be coming in AND the last guy had just left... which meant it was an empty restaurant for the next 30 minutes (and no one could see in to see who was sitting in there) so we would eat quickly and leave before prayer time was over... sounded reasonable to me.... well not to them.  They explained that the mutawas checked on this sort of thing and could fine them or close down their restaurant for good.... at first I wanted to call their bluff... I didn't know that this happened I had only been told that the mutawas walked around and would call you out if you were not dressed properly..... but before I could question them any more they showed us a write up they had just received from a mutawa so they were already in trouble and on probation so at that point I knew there was no point pushing the subject any farther.  They explained they were just following the rules/ law... and they were.... I just didn't realize that there were actually rules/laws about this sort of thing.  All in all, it was a great adventure shopping sans my abaya (which I WILL do again) and learning more about the rules pertaining to Bachelor and Family seating areas!!!  And now I know I need to be on better behavior because I never know when a mutawa is watching!!!!

1 comment:

SRW said...

Go AMbre! Thanks for sharing!