Thursday, October 6, 2011


Sergei is doing some Physical Therapy now to assist with some back pain.  One day last week, after a stressful day at work, then running out to get Zhen from school, taking him home, picking up Sergei and racing to PT (you get the idea) I found myself feeling very self-conscious.  In my little office all day, I'd been unpacking and organizing textbooks, and not seen many people.  But, now in the public eye, I realized that my clothes were a bad mix of fall and summer (should I really be wearing sandals with this skirt?) Worse yet, it was suddenly really cold and for some reason that morning I'd been unable to find anything like a heavy sweater or light jacket....and as it was absolutely time to go! I'd grabbed my dad's old quilted jacket (why was it even on the coat rack?) as I raced out the door to get kids from school. My office is quite chilly, so I had to take something. And then , worst of all was my hair - working against the clock to get the Religous Ed program up, with no time for the hairdresser, I was only too aware that a color and cut had been due at least a week previous.  Basically, I felt a complete mess, and as I so often do, was desperately hoping I wouldn't see anyone I knew.  Since I work for a big parish and have children of all ages, going out and not seeing someone I know in East Lansing, is a rarity.

At that point, a couple swept past me, chattering happily.  The man was looking down into his wife's face with warm brown eyes full of laughter; she was holding their baby - a child who looked to be about 18 months old - and she was in the midst of telling him something in a foreign language - my guess was that it was about something the child had done - there was so much affection both in his look and her voice.  This was the university Clinic, so there was no surprise at all in hearing the foreign language - but this was the first time I'd ever actually seen someone close up, in a burka.  And in every way, at that moment, my preconceived ideas about it were shattered.

First thought - I always presumed a woman would wear a burka because it was required by her cold, demanding husband who considered her his property. I even imagined a much older man, not this attractive and friendly young guy.  And, clearly this husband and wife had a close and warm relationship.

Second thought - A burka would make you feel conspicuous, at least in this country.  NO!  At that moment, actually even before I began to notice the couple's relationship - what I thought was how relieved I'd be if I could be wearing a burka!  I envied her with every fiber.  To just be there.  Not worrying about how you look, being judged "unattractive".  No guilty anxiety about not "keeping up appearances", of being found "odd looking" "inappropriate" "disheveled".  Everything in me cried out "Give me the burka!"

Third thought - in this country women are always judged by appearance.  Hair, figure, clothing, shoes, makeup.  I'm really sick of it.  Wouldn't it be interesting to be judged by what you say and do??? 

And when I saw how happy this woman was, evident by her quick and light step, and her smiling eyes - well, I envied that, too.  Her husband came with her to the doctor's office!  She didn't even have to drive!!!!!

And, what about driving?  That seems like quite a mixed blessing to me.  There was one week, when I was driving so much that my legs ached miserably and non-stop from sitting in the car with no time for even a quick walk. (Well, that week, if I wasn't in my car I was at my desk revising lesson plans.  Sometimes I'd kneel at my desk, or stand, hunched over, just to change the quality of the ache a bit.)  Those women in Saudi Arabia might have a chat with me before they agitate for this "privilege" too loudly, or like me, they'll be running themselves ragged every waking moment, a slave to their automobiles and all the possibilities they allow. 

In a conversation about the Sabbath a few weeks ago, I actually found myself arguing that housework certainly should be appropriate activity for the sabbath, if it was the thing you never got to do, and longed to do.  So, you can see where I'm at - actually longing for a Sabbath of housework, since my Sabbath (and every other day the last few weeks) is filled with churchwork and driving, and an infinite number of trips to the store.  I was at the store last night at bedtime...and I am just hearing Craig, at 6:45 a.m. say "There is no milk!"  Criminey.  There was milk left last night after dinner!  

Where is the milkman when you need him?  They have milk delivery in England!  And in Saudi Arabia the women have their day free to go to the market.  What the heck is with this country?


MyGirlElena said...

While I agree that "bringing home the bacon" is overated, I am no fan of the burka. Why even bother taking pictures in that thing?

Anonymous said...

While I understand your frustration, in reality, I don't think you'd trade your life for a burqa if you'd ever really "walked in those shoes." The grass always looks greener on the other side. What you saw in that couple is an exception -- certainly not the rule in Saudi Arabia.

Tina in CT said...

Give me my lifestyle, choices and freedom here in the USA. I never would want to be wearing a burka. I was made to go to a private
Catholic girls' high school for freshman year as my parents did not want me in the public high school and that was the only private school within driving distance for girls. I despised having to wear a uniform (and also being in that school).

As for driving, my ex and I shared all the responsibilities of driving our daughter so I can't complain. He also did his share of running out for last minute groceries too. Often on a winter Sunday afternoon (when I did most of the dinner cooking for the work week), I would need a certain ingredient and he would go for it (as I was usually in at home sweats).

You have a full house of kids to drive around so I can imagine how busy you are. Hopefully your husband does a lot of it too.

Hevel said...

If she was wearing a burqa how did he see her face? Burqa, by definition, includes the niqab, the face covering as well.

If you wore a burqa, you'd still be judged by what you wear and your appearance, and no one would care what you say, because you must be a religious fanatic to wear that garb.

And no, she didn't even have to drive... probably because she can't leave the home w/o her husband anyway. She most likely can't drive,either, because that would give her too much independence.

It might be her choice, but it's a brainwashed choice. Like the choice of JW parents to let their child (or themselves) die rather than have a transfusion. Like Jonestown folks drinking that kool aid. Like Haredi Jews withholding general education from their kids in favour of Torah.

schnitzelbank said...

I speak to my dog in a pleasant, loving voice, too.

I used to teach ESL not too far from you, in Dearborn, which has the largest Arab population in America. I know these women. You know what the niqab (and burqa) hides well? The bruises of battered women.

I'm not saying all were battered, but many were. Their in-class journals held their stories, written in our new "secret language." They showed me their injuries in private, pulling away the layers of concealment. They held my hands. We cried. "Please, teacher, don't give me an "A" ever again. My husband wants me to keep my student visa, but I can not learn too much. If he suspects I am smarter than him, he will beat me." I provided numbers for shelters and my office phone, if needed. None called.

All did not live with the choice to remove the veil. All were controlled by husband, family, and cultural demands. These women were the lucky ones, as many of their sisters and daughters were not allowed to study English.

I hope you appreciate your freedom.

Tina in CT said...

Poor Annie. I bet you didn't realize that you'd opened a can of worms.

Sit back and enjoy the freedom that the women (and men) before us have fought and lost their lives for.

Annie said...

JEB and Schnitzelbank, I am honored that you commented on my blog! And I hope you both realize that I wasn't being 100% serious, that's why I called it "crazy talk" in the title. I know that the state of women in Saudi Arabia is not just. I was just trying to express that sometimes all this equality is exhausting. Also, that in our culture women ARE always judged by how they look - and always expected to be "attractive". Being free of that would be nice.

You could be a Nobel Prize winner, but if you are fat and frumpy that will be a key component of your image IF you are a woman.

I rarely watch TV news, but the last time I did, it was a perfect example - two very attractive, and young [i.e. pretty inexperienced] women and one elderly, somewhat heavy, but experienced and knowledgeable man.

Hevel, I guess it wasn't a complete burqa (burka?) anyway - ALL you could see was her eyes. I guess I have also seen (in photos) the "full burqa" with a veil over the eyes, too. It wasn't that complete. Sorry about the spelling; you can tell I get my news from BBC and NPR and not a print source!

Yes; you're judged in the USA for wearing any religious garb, but more generously than you are for simply looking fat and frumpy! I suppose I would rather be thought a religious zealot than fat and frumpy. And they RECOGNIZE the fat and frumpy person, connecting her with her family, work, neighborhood, etc. Anonimity appealed to me, too.

Anonymous said...

Annie, I understand where you were coming from. I think you're really wishing for a magic invisibility cloak. Right? Me, too!
Hugs, JEB

schnitzelbank said...

I'd just like to put rose-colored glasses on everyone else. :)

Samuel Martin said...

really enjoyed your blog.

best wishes from jerusalem