“A chador calls respect,” she said talking to my reflection. “Although you are not required to wear it, it’ll make it easier for you to go unnoticed.”
Easier for me to go unnoticed. I am a husky 5 foot 9, 160 pound blue-eyed blonde with chipmunk cheeks and a little curled up nose. That made me twice the size of Jihan with half her pigmentation. A total chameleon.
Nevertheless, I was hypnotised by the sight of my own veiled reflection. How mysterious and enigmatic I looked! I slipped into a delightful ego trip and decided I had to be the coolest blonde the Middle East would get to see since Lawrence of Arabia.
As I was thanking her profusely, Jihan carefully folded “my” hijab and chador into a bag saying I could give them back whenever I returned. She accompanied me to the door, kissed me three times and wished me luck.
And may Allah watch over me.
In spite of my protests, the borrowed outfit was meticulously sprayed with holy water by my I-don’t-feel-this-trip-is-a-good-idea-and-
I-still-think-you-should-dye-your-hair-brown mother. Candles were lit and prayers were said for me all over the province.
And may God bless me.
The guys in the minarets were doing their thing again outside. Pulling Jihan’s silk chador and hijab from the bottom of my suitcase, I was most impressed to see that my dry cleaner’s bag wrapping job had kept them practically wrinkle-free. Unfortunately, after a few frustrating attempts, I had to face the facts: I couldn’t put on a hijab properly if my life depended on it. (Fine, so I hadn’t practised.) I figured that if I couldn’t wear it right, better not wearing it at all. The chador would then have to do, which I considered was still a worthwhile effort. Throwing the silk cloak over a long black skirt and black top, I headed on out to my fancy mall.
The mall was really nothing to rant and rave about, at least not for someone who had been expecting golden elevators, crystal chandeliers, giant marble arches, intricate mosaics on every wall and Persian carpets everywhere. No, bare grey floors of composite marble, white gypsum walls and neon lights were all I found. Sure, it was airy, new and modern, but in a disappointingly American way. Nonetheless, the mere fact of having a chador on made me happy, so I went on with my window shopping.
Yet the more I walked around, the more I got the uneasy feeling that everyone was intensely staring at me. First resorting to denial, I discarded the feeling as the product of a CNN-bred paranoia.
But the stares persisted throughout the mall. After the 20 most self-conscious minutes of my life, I finally noticed that most women wore their chador over the head, much like one does when pulling their coat over them in the rain. After a week in Kuwait, it made perfect sense to me that the curve of a woman’s neck would be considered too erotic of a sight and had to be concealed under yet another veil. “So that’s what it is, I’m wearing this thing like a tourist”, I told myself. Jihan had never been to Kuwait, maybe she didn’t know about this local trend.
Over my head went the chador.
The stares doubled and children started pointing at me. Now there was no mistaking: there was something distinctively odd about me and it was entertaining the mall’s entire clientele. What was these people’s problem anyway? I was all covered up like everybody else, what more did they expect me to do? I just didn’t get it.
Then I walked by a full-length mirror.
Jihan was a full nine inches shorter than me. Pulled up over my head as it now was, her chador barely covered my butt. What the whole mall was staring at was some freaky cross between E.T., Thor and the flying nun.
But that was only half the story.
The Koran preaches that women are to walk in a slow, careful manner to prevent any “inviting” movement of their feminine attributes whose very existence should not be known. In plain English, a gal shouldn’t walk in a fast heavy pace because it makes her boobs jiggle.
Here’s the direct quote for all you non-believers:
“And say to the believing women that they … guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms … and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known (…)” – The light [24.31]
Indeed, there is much more to wearing a chador than putting it on. I later learned – and witnessed – that a woman veiled from head to toes can actually be incredibly sensual, and sometimes right out sexy, in the way she makes her veils flow graciously about her when she walks. Her trained body will expertly move in harmony with wind and light to let her soft silky robes flow sensually with every step. Speed, or lack of, is therefore key. Some women even wear little bells around their hidden ankles and stop more traffic than Claudia Schiffer when they literally dance across an intersection in a walking melody. Women the world over seem to have an intrinsic need to please; veiled ladies have found their own way of being beautiful.
In light of all this, I could only be damned. Being as graceful and light-footed as my lumberjack grandfathers, there was nothing to do but accept that no amount of veils could ever make me pass for a “believing woman”.
The short but intense episode of horror that followed the sight of my own grotesque reflection only served to entertain the mall crowd some more. Tearing the ludicrous black cloak off my head and back, I disgustingly shoved it at the bottom of my purse, feeling a crimson tide rising over my face. As I stormed out of the mall through what seemed like a forest of giggling black ghosts, Jihan’s words echoed in my mind: “It’ll make it easier for you to go unnoticed”. Sure, as unnoticed as a reindeer in a desert caravan.
So all black ghosts were not created equal: some are definitely spookier than others.