Thursday, May 24, 2007

A Social Experiment

Last night I decided to wear the black gear.

(*Note: see previous entry)

The long, black abbaya (black robe) covered my body, revealing none of its curvy features. The Sheila (black headscarf) was wrapped loosely around my hair, as to not choke me.

As I drove around the city, running some errands, I realized I wanted to prove to myself that what I wrote in my last entry is true.

So I started to glance around me at the other cars, especially when I come to a stop (be it at a light, or while approaching a roundabout). The local men stared at me. Once I met their gaze, I would quickly turn away to avoid being harassed. You see, if I look at them a second too long they will think I am interested in them, and the night will be horrific for me.

About thirty minutes into my social experiment I noticed there was a car driving alongside my SUV. Out of the corner of eye, I could tell it was a local man driving a sports car. He followed my every move. He did everything in his power to try and get me to glance in his direction. I guess he wanted to get a better look at my face, to see if I was worth pursuing. I continued to ignore him. He eventually sped off.

I ran more errands.

An hour later I had forgotten that I was wearing the black gear. I noticed a Nissan Patrol full of local guys. All 4 of them leaned towards the right side of the car to get a better look at the not-so-local-looking girl wearing the black gear. It scared me. It was only when the headscarf slipped off my head that I remembered why they were staring at me.

My final stop was at a drive-through fast-food joint. I pulled up to the little box of concrete to find a Filipino man waiting to take my order. I smiled and asked him how he was. He looked nervous as he answered. I gave him my order. The more time I spent with him, the more comfortable he became. Mind you, it was only a few seconds. I realized he was nervous when I first pulled up to his little kiosk because he didn’t want to get bitched at for no particular reason.

As I handed him the money, he conjured up the courage to ask me, “Maam, are you really from here?”

I smiled to myself; “Only half.”

“And the other half?” he asked

I answered, and he was surprised that it wasn’t a European or North American country.

He told me my complexion is light, my English is perfect, and my hair (from what he could see of it) is blonde - that I was different from the other local women.

I smiled as I drove off because I knew he was right.

And now I don’t have to feel guilty for supposedly ‘tarnishing my family name.’

And yes, this really is me in that picture (wearing none other than the infamous abbaya).


Nitya said...

I thought the families at the temple in Orlando were looking at us with amusement at our uncontrollable displays of affection, holding hands and sneaking kisses in the house of God. But maybe it was more because they were startled that a conservatively dressed young woman in a sari, sporting the blatant signs of wifehood (black beads and red sindoor) was basking in the warmth of newly-wed bliss the same way as unselfconciously as any American girl would.
And that's the key sweetheart. I forgot how uncomfortable the swathes of cloth used to be when they symbolized my parents' culture and their desire for me to fit in and not invite comments from "friends and family". It didn't matter that I was dressed the way I was. It didn't matter that I was pinned and pressed in too many places and the bangles and anklets were noisy. Even wearing all that, and maybe partly because of all that, I'm proud of who I am. I'm a strong independent beautiful girl loved by my husband, and also, incidentally, Indian.
I can't wait for the day when, in the abbaya or out, you can see how proud I am of you for being a strong, capable, intelligent, accomplished woman who also happens to be part Arab.

This is a True Story said...

Your words send emotions surging through my body.
I can see the vibrant colors of your sari. I can smell the incense in the temple. I can hear the whispers of the other women. I can feel the warmth between you & ur husband. I can almost touch the picture that brings it all together.

I smile at your words, and tears want to pour down my face.

I miss you dearly