April 21, 2012

Niqab--the Face Veil

It's been more than a month since my last post. I can attribute my lack of prolific publishing to 1) a time-sucking schedule that could best be described as "painful", and 2) a shortage of good material. Unless you want to hear about my office, journal articles on applied linguistics, or varying degrees of insanity brought on by ambiguity intolerance, I don't have much to say.

Today, however, an inconsequential Friday during which I managed to squeeze out 15 minutes to attend the International Fair, proved to be blog-worthy.

I went to the fair intending to make the rounds to see my international friends, make awkward small talk, and then slip off to yoga.

I greeted my friends at the Moroccan and Tunisian tables, and then I began strolling the tables. The Saudi table was easy to spot, as all the men had traditional garb--the long white tunics, the red checked head scarf and the black ropes that keep the scarf attached. Even though I was hoping to slip by the table, one of the guys stopped me and said "would you like to try it on?" He held up what appeared to be a black table cloth. My curiosity spoke out before the hesitation could stop me. Before I knew it, I was slipping into a long, black robe that covered all of my arms, and nearly reached the floor. Then the guys draped my head with a black scarf. Then came teh scary part. The niqab, or face veil. This piece of fabric some how looked very ominous with it's slit for the eyes. As they tied it around my head, I felt a little clastrophobic. Only my eyes were now visible. I was dressed like a Saudi woman.

I was quite intimidated at first, but I did my best to stay calm as they took my picture. They instructed me to lift the face part so that I could talk more easily. Then they interviewed me, on camera, about how I felt in the clothes. To be honest, in the clothes, I felt very safe. Sure, at first it was intimidating, but that also had to do with strangers helping me assemble an outfit. Without a mirror, I really had no idea what I looked like, but since only my eyes were showing, I can guess that I closely resembled any woman who tries on this outfit. In my interview, I think I described the outfit as feeling like a scarf. When I wear a scarf, my neck always feels protected, and much to my surprise this outfit made my whole body feel that way.

After I took off the clothing, I felt like a different person. Although nothing really changed, I felt different. I felt like I understood something better, or like a had a million more questions. I love things like that. Many Americans, including me are very ignorant about the Middle East, and that it something I am not proud of.

Since most of my students are Saudi men, I feel like I need to get to know their culture better. The only woman in my class is from Kuwait, and she doesn't veil. Some of her friends do, and they have gotten in the habit of coming along to office hours with my student. I really enjoy talking with them. They ask me for advice on ENG 105, and I ask them about Kuwait. It's a good trade.

Every day, whether I blog or not, I learn something. Today I had a profound experience of walking in someone else's shoes (actually, seeing through someone else's niqab). What a wonderful opportunity to lose some ignorance and learn about my students.

If I weren't so darn tired, I would extend my metaphors further, but not tonight. Maybe later.

Farewell faithful readers, and goodnight.