In December of 2008 Brian Hartenstein and family left America for an adventurous life overseas to live and work throughout Asia, raising three daughters with a sense of wonder and awe at the possibility of the world. It is now 2016 and the adventure continues back home in Oregon. This blog remains as a time capsule to that period. Thank you so much to all our friends around the world. Please stay in touch. We miss you all!
Monday, July 29, 2013
What'cha Wearing Under That Abaya, Baby?
A funny thing happened on the plane to Qatar.
I was flying in from Bangkok, the Vegas of Asia. A total Sodom and Gomorrah where anything goes... into one of the most religiously conservative places in the world: Saudi Arabia, with a little layover in the gulf country
The women boarded the plane with tattoos and belly shirts... little hot pants and mini skirts... bedecked in gaudy jewelry and so much make-up a thirteen year old girl would squirm.
But somewhere over the Indian Ocean, one by one the women would go into the airplane bathrooms and emerge NOT as these vestibules of confidence and overt (albeit kind of yucky) sexuality... but as wrapped up gunny sacks of Islamic Shame and servanthood.
I'm talking about the Abaya... people! Not a Burka (Burqa). That's a garment that goes so far as to cover the eyes like some weird space suit. No...the Saudi Arabian Abaya. Which at least allows them to see where they are walking.
Even still... with women wearing the Abaya, there are flashes of flare. Check out my girl's three inch heels.
Of course, none of this makes sense to a westerner because we actually LOVE women. We adore them. We understand that everything good in the world comes because women either created or inspired it.
So what becomes even stranger is you arrive in Saudi Arabia and walk around... and because of the heat you're herded like cattle into the only air-conditioned buildings in the country... shopping malls... and you find yourself wandering around killing time.... and all you can see are these clothing shops for women.
Now when I say clothing shops... I'm saying Lane Bryant and Anne Taylor loft be damned... because these are shops for old ladies wishing to be princesses.
Ball gowns with gigantic hoop skirts. Frills. Lace. Plunging neck lines. Strapless. Sleeveless. Total weirdo couture.
These women's stores were everywhere to the total bafflement of all the foreigners there.
Is this what Muslim women wear beneath these ridiculous Abaya gowns? Do they dress up like it's prom night only to cover themselves in black gunny sacks to keep from being raped by sex starved men?
Nobody knows. I was not allowed into these stores... and even taking the picture of these stores could have gotten me into trouble... but it begs the question, what is happening here?
Because you'd see the hems of elaborate garments beneath the black robes... sashaying and frolicking as the women wandered in and out of shops escorted by (of course) their husbands.
It was a question I never got answered. The western men that did exist in Saudi for a long time, who lived in Riyadh, who attended embassy parties who met affluent Arabian women, would dazzle with stories of debauchery and wild party life. But for simple old me, I had to just watch and wonder. No real loss. I've been to the prom before and can take the wait.