September 12, 2006

Decisions in a closet

In a few days , I will be travelling to another Middle Eastern capital . Travelling is a pain - agreed.
But for an Arab woman , it is more than just a nuisance , it is torture .
Everytime , I am set to go to some Middle Eastern city , my mind gets into semi automatic gear and I am always amazed as to how I can process several thoughts simultaneously all at once .
One of my biggest obsessions when travelling to another Middle Eastern country is what shall I wear - I become totally fixated on this thought .
Some of you may think it is female vanity or simple coquetterie . I can assure none of that is true .
It goes beyond that . For a non veiled woman such as myself (rightly or wrongly) , what I decide to wear is of crucial importance these days . I say these days , because am old enough to know it was not that way before - before meaning in the early 80's and 90's .
Now , I have to be very very careful . My wardrobe has become a "lieu" for deep reflections .
Is this dress too short ? are these jeans too tight ? is this skirt wide enough ? what about this shirt , is it transparent by any chance ? and the t-shirt , make sure it has sleeves and it goes on and on ...
I can assure you that I am a relatively modest dresser and do not enjoy parading or exhibiting myself in public . Ok, I may be a little eccentric in my taste but there is nothing shocking or unpuritanical about it . Yet despite all of that , I am not at rest and there is no respite .
If I am to compare myself to the increasing number of women clad from head to toe , then I will invariably appear naked in comparison . There is no way I can win this battle .
I feel constantly judged when travelling alone in the Middle East . People are simply not used seeing a woman by herself . They almost always assume you mean business and men know what business I am talking about . A woman can have 10 phds and 20 years of work experience in her baggage but when she travels alone , she is immediately seen at best as an object of curiosity or at worst as an "easy target " specially if she happens to be an Arab like myself .
So I find it absolutely necessary to keep that "frigid death " look on my face so as to ward off unwanted predators. And needless to say that this put-on demeanor has to be crowned with a serious frown .
The most difficult moments when travelling alone is eating time . Eating becomes a torturous process. I find myself having to stick to the hotel restaurant because wandering alone , in particular during the evenings , in some restaurant is a definite no no .
I have had the experience of going out alone at night and I did mention one incident at this jazz club in Cairo but I have heaps of other incidents I can share with you .
Everyone stares at you , women think you are after their husbands/boyfriends , men think you are a hooker prowling for a client , even the waiters try to hit on you . I feel so uncomfortable that I always gulp my food down , my stomach in knots , pay my bill in a rush and head back to my hotel room . Many a times I have cried myself to sleep from sheer frustration .
A woman cannot reclaim the night alone in this part of the world . She has to be accompanied . And if she happens to be alone , then she has no one to blame but herself . She should either be with her family or husband . And if she has neither , then ....then she sits in her hotel room and eats cold sandwichs watching Al Jazeera . Do you understand now why most Arab women are desperate to get married .
Marriage is the passport to civil society , it procures you a place , a space to move , a title of respectability . And if you happen to be unmarried like myself , by choice , then you are doomed forever . You are neither a mother , nor a wife - you are just a woman alone in a wild world .
Freedom has always a price and sometimes a costly one and It seems that I will not stop paying its dues .
Ok , so I was saying ...ah right , my clothes ...So what do you think I should wear ?