Don't walk around naked, and other good clothing advice for women in the UAE

Black, Black and more Black.
We live in a Muslim country. I respect that. I understand they have different traditions, differences in their religious beliefs, differences in dress, differences in culture, oh-so-many differences. That's ok, that's exciting to learn about and experience...however, that is very very hard to explain and communicate to a one and a two year old who have never experienced it. I know I'm not alone. I chuckle as I remember our Syrian pastor from Citipointe who explained when one of his children first saw a woman in burka, he immediately pointed at her and shouted 'look dad, a Ninja!' Although my kids don't have the vocabulary to burst out words like 'ninja', they do have the facial expressions, screaming, crying and body language to embarrass everyone around. It's a learning curve. I'm glad they're learning about culture and differences at a young age. I remember a friend posting a mini-rant on facebook as she was feeling the ignorance of children not understanding different skin colour. Her kids had been asked very awkward things about their skin and she was saddened that more education on the matter hadn't been discussed by parents. I don't believe it's ignorance. I don't believe it's lack of education. I believe it's lack of experience, and that isn't something that can always be granted. Kids are curious by nature. They can't be expected to have the brain-filter of an adult in social etiquette. If they have never had an Asian or Caucasian or African friend before, then why would we be surprised when they ask questions about the differences they see? It's natural, it's normal, it's totally NOT offensive as it usually has nothing to do with what a parent has 'taught' or shown a child in a book or movie. I need to remember that. My kids are just learning through experience now and it's totally natural for them to feel strange when they see new things.
I've been here a very short time, and yet, in that very short time I've seen so many stereotypes that are totally squashed immediately. Maybe stereotypes aren't the right word...more like assumptions? I read and heard from so many that of course it's a muslim country, however, there are so many expats who live here that dressing conservatively isn't an issue unless visiting a mosque. NOT TRUE. Every mall has the following rules posted on all the doors and even the parking lots in some cases:
1. (always number 1) Wear Conservative Clothing - shoulders and knees must be covered at all times.
2. No Smoking
3. No Kissing or Displays of Affection (aka: don't hold hands with your husband)
4. No Alcohol
5. No Pets

I originally thought this was just at some malls, as everyone everywhere told me the malls were the epicenter of the UAE where East meets West and everyone is free to express themselves however they wish. Nope. I mean, don't get me wrong, the malls are crazy, elaborate, extensive, everywhere, have everything you can imagine...but no, you can't just romp around in your cut-off jeans that show your bum-cheeks, and mid-drift tank top, smokin' your cig and swapping spit with your boy-toy. Or actually, you can't even wear long shorts with a tunic top, even if it is 120 degrees outside.
There is nothing that makes you feel like letting yourself go more than wearing baggy, loose-fit clothing all.the.time. I've never been one for letting it all hang out, but every girl likes to at least feel a little attractive. My wardrobe consists of t-shirts and linen pants. I'm working on it. Ben never noticed this when he was here before. Why? Because there are no rules for guys. None. Doesn't matter what you wear. The traditional Emirate white, or short boardies with tight-fitting tanks straight from the beaches of Australia. Speaking of beaches, here's the swimwear that you see frequently here, usually in all black although colours are available at the shops. Can I tell you a secret? Whenever any type of fabric is wet, no matter what it is made of, it hugs the body. Knowing this, why don't they just wear wet-suits? It would help with the drag so much!

Honestly, my only recent experience with Muslim culture was our friends from Australia. M was from Jordan and she is beautiful. She wore different coloured head scarfs with long-sleeves and skinny jeans. She had designer shoes and sun-glasses and was a treasure to be around. You don't see much of that here, and I've found in my couple weeks that it's actually just like any other religion. The elders hate it. The youth embrace it. Rock-n-roll is the devil, or a way to bring an entire generation to salvation....ah, the conflicts. They don't matter to me. Not in Christianity or other religions, but they help me understand why my beautiful friend M could wear one thing, while our expat, normal, hotel is full of women in black, all black, all the time, head to toe. I found a blog condemning all western Muslim women for their dress. It was written by a woman and included quotes from the Qur'an. Anything that hugs the body is seen as 'naked' and disrespectful to a husband and the wives of other husbands. So 'skinny jeans' are viewed by some to be 'naked legs', thus a way they can get thrown into hell, literally. Skinny jeans and belts too, as an outline of your waste is seen as naked-clothing. It sounds absurd, it is absurd to me. I can respect it though. I believe we can all recall a time not long ago when maybe our grandparents believed the same thing about dancing or mini-skirts or tattoos? Thank God I'm delivered from those beliefs in my personal faith, I can't keep up with all the taboos I embrace.
Everyone I've seen here wears an Abaya in black. I see coloured ones in the mall, but I've never seen anyone wear one. They all have black head scarves too. They're pretty. Really pretty. I love scarves. The face veil is unique and makes me a bit uncomfortable because you can't tell if someone is searing flaming darts your way with their expression or if they're happy to see you. The full burka is pictured in blue here, but I've only ever seen it in black. These freak Bina out, she doesn't know if they're coming or going. She doesn't even know they're people, let alone woman, probably mamas just like me. They sort of freak me out too. Like how could I approach this woman to ask for directions? What if my kid runs into her leg? Will she laugh? Am I allowed to hear her laugh? One poor lady in a face veil tried to talk to Bina at breakfast and she hid between my legs and stared at the floor. I attempted to get her to say hello, but even after saying it myself, without the smile, it just isn't the same. It's going to take a lot of time for us. We'll get there.

I gawk. I mean, I do. Sometimes it's hard. It's not appropriate to make eye-contact and smile, but I totally do that too, clearly I'm new, and not from around here, so whatevs. I'm not going to let it bother me. I was obsessed with finding out how they eat with their veils on. Do they lift it? Can I see their chin? Do they use a straw and only eat liquids? It's different. Some remove the veil completely. Some only eat finger food and lift the veil only slightly in order to slide a hand under. Some just sneak a hand straight up under the veil with no movement what-so-ever. They can remove them in their homes, when men aren't around, so I'm sure they can enjoy a good meal, but I still watch curiously. I would love to just ask. If I could speak Arabic or had the guts to just approach a woman even though I couldn't see her face. I mean, sometimes it bothers me, like when one women literally turned her back on me and waited for me to pass her by before continuing on her way, but overall, we're all women here, we have emotions, we love our kids, we are comfortable in our own cultures, we expect to be treated with respect from each other...even if that looks different in different places.
So keep your tanks and shorts at home ladies, this is the Middle East for crying out loud. Show a little respect. ;)

p.s. This and all posts to follow relate to my personal experience and are in no way intended to offend a religion or culture, rather are just musings from an idiot abroad who has no clue.

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