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Archive for August, 2013

My Abaya

Abaya fashions

Abaya fashions (Photo credit: Lars Plougmann)

When I tell people I’m going to Saudi Arabia to teach English, they all ask the same thing: “Are you going to have to wear one of those things?” The answer is yes. As the time draws near for me to go, my feelings about donning the abaya have changed. Initially, I accepted it as just another cultural quirk to which I would adapt. Hot and annoying, yes, but not offensive.

Then I went online to see about ordering an abaya so that I would have it with me when I arrive. I discovered a world I didn’t know existed! Of course I didn’t want just any old abaya. I found myself studying the various abayas, reading reviews and trying to decide which abaya would be most flattering on me.(which is kind of like asking which flannel nightgown is most flattering…if you’re wearing a flannel nightgown, does it really matter?)

Mind you, an abaya is just a long-sleeved, loose dress. But, oh, the variety of clothing I found! One retailer claimed that their parrot-green abaya was their best seller. Another abaya promised that I would receive ‘humble complements’ when I wore it. I found abayas in every price range and for every occasion, from plain cotton for everyday wear to elaborately embroidered wedding abayas. Who knew?

I finally settled upon a simple cotton abaya, just to get me started. I have to admit, I’m not excited about my new purchase. Turns out, the abaya is not just another cultural quirk. My abaya is weighty with ideas and beliefs. My abaya brings up emotions I’d rather not acknowledge. It is a reminder of the vast cultural gulf between the place I am traveling to and the place I am leaving behind. The gulf seems unbridgeable. Does a long black dress have the power to keep me from finding that bridge? I hope not.

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