Clothes have never… ever… been my strong point.
After 7 years of teaching, I realized the only clothes I was ever complimented on were the ones my sister Lindsey bought for me. Clothes have ALWAYS been Lindsey’s strong point. My hair cutting girl even told me once, “Your sister is so stylish!” As in, “You’re actually related to her??” I just can’t seem to put outfits or colors together. It stresses me out, not as much as IKEA, but enough that when I lived in Houston I only bought my clothes from Express because I figured if Express stuck it on the hanger, I couldn't be too wrong in wearing it. (Andrew's Note: Except here in Saudi, actually. It turns out that just because it's on a mannequin in a store does not guarantee the person dressing it has color/fashion sense. I trust the Express people in the US. Here...not so much.) Anyway, if I had a choice in the fall and didn't care what my hairdresser thought of me, I would wear a crazy soft, long sleeved shirt with loose jeans, Toms, and those mitten things that have the fingers cut off. And maybe a really long scarf. None of this would match. Lindsey would roll her eyes. (And Andrew would buy her a gift card to...anywhere.) I kind of like it when Lindsey rolls her eyes. Dressing to impress the people, whether they be family or students or friends around me has never been something I've enjoyed. So you can imagine that a VERY small part of me was just kind of excited about the prospect of moving to a country where I could wear my pj's out in public without anyone realizing it! For those of you wondering, wearing pj's INSIDE camp is frowned upon. Especially in the commissary When shopping for milk. When all of your husband's students seem to have simultaneously run out of milk.
More details on what wearing an abaya is like later, just know that wearing one in public (off camp) has become a very big part of leaving-camp-procedures. We've been here two months so far and are realizing more and more that Saudi Arabia is a country of contradictions. Nowhere else will you find such devout religious followers coexisting with unimaginable wealth (among many other things that are banned but still exist). Before we arrived here, we had many preconceived notions of what we would be experiencing. Much of our expectations came from what we saw portrayed on American TV, online chatter, books, or from people in the US expressing their opinions but never having been in the Kingdom. As a woman, I had even more trepidation about my new life in a country that supposedly does not hold up women’s rights to the rest of the world’s standards. I would love to tell you that everything you hear about women’s rights and this closed-off society is just as you've heard, but I can’t. I also would love to tell you that everything is much better than the Western media portrays it, but I can’t do that either! What I can do is give you a perspective from inside the country as one who is living as an expat, on a camp, but who goes outside of the camp many times a week to go shopping, visit friends, eat at restaurants or travel. (You're such an expat :-)
|Erin and I off camp catching a bus into town.|
|Perhaps if the house wasn't kept so cold this picture wouldn't have been necessary.|
|Erin and I buying our first abayas! These colored ones are usually only worn by expats. (Nerds.)|
|What?! You mean your daughter doesn't own the latest abaya-covered-Barbie??!|
I think some people in the US feel sorry for me being a woman in this culture. I actually had friends say they would never live here if offered a job due to the way women are treated. And I’ll say this, as a Western woman, I miss the freedoms that my culture allows…freedom to drive a car off camp, freedom to walk alone in the mall without getting looks from people because of my blonde hair, freedom to wear what I want without the ‘mutawah’ (religious police) stopping me and telling me to cover my head and ankles. (Tramp.) But what I've had to realize living here is that under that large black abaya, there are real women with real lives. While I definitely don’t understand the laws, I have to respect them and understand than most women here are products of the circumstances in which they were brought up. Who am I to judge them or form opinions about something of which I've only been a part of for 2 months? I don't think it's healthy to think that I'm better than them or that my culture is better than theirs, I think our cultures are very different and we as Americans do very little to take the time to understand the ins and outs of why the Middle East is the way it is. (With some of that certainly stemming from the fact that Saudi is effectively shut off from the rest of the world in terms of people coming here to understand it.)
|Me. At the mall. Waiting for an available taxi.|
(This blog post is over, woman. Don't you have a sandwich to make me??!)