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Violating Sanctions

An American Woman’s Listening Tour Through the Axis of Evil

Wrapping My Head Around Head Wraps

The Author By Kelly Hayes-Raitt | May 28th, 2008 | Comments 4 Comments »

Woman in a mosque in Damascus.  photo by Kelly Hayes-RaittI’m sitting in the airport restaurant in Bahrain overlooking the runway. It’s a spectacular view. I have a 6-hour layover here between flights from Damascus to Bangkok.

The women are so interesting to watch. I had a bit of culture shock at the Damascus Airport. The décor in Damascus is shocking – these women would make my hometown bohemian Venetians blush! Head scarves wrapped artfully around their heads and necks, then tight spandex tops stretching down over their derrières, emphasizing every curve and bulge without shame. Other women wear décolleté-baring tops, as if they are making a dry run for the full summer heat. Even the abaya-clad women reveal their full faces and hands. I feel so frumpy in my slacks and untucked white blouses.

The gate for the flight to Bahrain at the Damascus Airport, however, was another story. Abaya’d women hunched over like they were trying to disappear into their long capes threw furtive glances my way, while little girls stared openly at my T-shirt and slacks that brazenly revealed my ankles and elbows. Everyone was very nice, including a young woman dressed in a gorgeously adorned abaya, who offered me a candy and a smile.

The airport here in Bahrain is like an upscale shopping mall. Sparkling, roomy and uncluttered as if to say “we only carry the best,” the shops feature giveaway sports cars, perfume-spritzing salesmen, glitzy electronics and English-language best-sellers. The variety of women’s headgear is a study unto itself. Glittery headscarves wrapped loosely around the hair, scarves wrapped tightly like skullcaps that also cover noses and mouths, scarves draped over hats and wrapped under chins…I wish I understood the significance of each choice. And I wish I could ask these women what they think of me and get an honest answer.

I really like Damascus, and I look forward to getting back. I can’t wait to dive into learning Arabic, and have been trying to learn a phrase a day. This morning, my Syrian cab driver asked in very broken English if I speak Arabic (at least that’s what I think he asked!). I answered in broken Arabic: “Thank you. I am happy. How are you? I am called Kelly. You’re welcome. No problem!” I withheld “I am single,” not wanting to be too much of a show-off.

He taught me that “matar” means “airport,” although I’m quite certain that information would have been most useful before I got into the cab.

I think he charged me extra.

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4 Responses to “Wrapping My Head Around Head Wraps”

  1. Christopher Hatton Says:

    Hi Kelly, you comments re headdress and the fashion implications remind me of the contrasts in Malaysia. Glad to hear you are about to learn Arabic, am impressed.

    I would also love to visit Damascus one day.

    All the best and following your blog via My Yahoo.

  2. John Reinke Says:

    Hi Kelly,

    Very colorful observations! Keep up the good work.

  3. Thailand Online Shop Says:

    Interesting article, the question I have is which sources can you trust. There is a lot of garbage out there and the internet is being abused for profit.
    Anyway, thank you Kelly Hayes-Raitt!

  4. Alexa Oliveria Says:

    Great post, will come back again to read more. Thx.

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