I have been living in the Middle East, mostly Saudi Arabia, for seven years now. There are so many things I want to share about the cultures of the Arabs. There are so many pros and cons when it comes to living in Saudi Arabia. I want to tell you about them both.
I was overwhelmed at first of what I should write about. The driving, the weddings, the malls, the healthcare system, shopping. Then I decided my female Trini counterparts might enjoy reading this article.
A few months ago I read about a woman who was told to leave the mall. The reason, she was wearing nail polish.
I can at this time just imagine some of the expletives being used by some readers. She was asked by the "Mutawah" to leave the mall. I will explain later what a Mutawah is. The woman was so angry, she taped the ordeal and uploaded it on YouTube. Although it is in Arabic, there is translation with it so you can click on this link to view it. The Mutawah is the one dressed in the brown cloak.
It is quite common to see security guards in the mall, almost at every gate entrance if it is a family mall. There is one family mall in particular which does not allow young men to enter. A lot of these young men go to the mall only to get "numbers" with their bluetooth. I'm not saying that single men can't enter. It's up to the guards' discretion.
Apparently some malls not only have security guards, they have "Mutawahs". Someone who tries to uphold their beliefs in the religion and ensure others follow. However, I have never seen any Mutawahs in the malls my family and I go to.
It was one of these Mutawahs who told the woman to leave the mall because she was wearing nail polish. Adornments like make-up, nail polish, perfumes etc, are encouraged to be worn at home only for oneself or for the husband.
Some months ago my husband and I were chatting with a Filipina nurse in a hospital. She was telling us about some of her experiences here.
She once went to a mall and the Mutawah told her she shouldn't wear slippers but closed shoes instead.
I have been to the malls countless times dressed in high heeled, open toes sandals and I have never been approached by anyone in authority.
I have seen countless women wearing slippers, open toe slippers, nail polish and even heavy make-up. I have never witnessed them being escorted out of the mall or denied permission to enter.
By the law of Saudi Arabia all women, Muslim or non-Muslim, must wear an "Abayah" when leaving their homes.
An Abaya is a loose, ankle length, black dress made from a soft, light silk. It is worn to cover the regular or fashionable clothes you would normally wear.
Non-Muslims do not cover their heads but must wear this Abayah. It is not always all black. More and more designs are being added and it has now turned into quite a fashion industry.
The only similar experience I could share is the few times I caught men looking at my fingers. I was not wearing any nail polish and my nails were filed low.
One might scream oppression. The fact still remains that crime is low. Women can go out alone, walk in the parks at night unescorted. Even go to an ATM machine with zero fear.
Wearing an abayah! 'Perhaps' not always being able to wear nail polish in public. Small discomforts. Women are not molested. You will never hear a man 'psst' a woman. And it's not like you can't "dress up". The list of brand name stores here is almost uncountable. Names like Givenchy, Coach, Lacoste, Dunes, Charles and Keith, Nine West, Burberry, Guess, Mother Care, Yves Saint Laurent and so much more.
And there are many occasions for us to dress up with parties and weddings and graduations and more. So we have to cover up as we leave our houses, all dolled up on our way to a friend's house for a celebration.
Could we be happy enough among our girlfriends, looking fashionable in nice trends with hair done in the ladies salon, or would we prefer to be ogled by the male counterparts?