I consider myself to be an open-minded individual. I’ve done my fair share of traveling, exploring, appreciating other cultures through culinary delights while in El Paso, and so forth. I’ve always been interested in the Middle East and its culture. 9/11 occurred while I was in college, and anti-Muslim rhetoric was interesting to me.
I am a feminist and began to resent the “black and white,” Western efforts towards acknowledging feminism. The message, as it was heard in my 20-year-old head, was loud and clear; be thankful for being a Westerner, where sexism doesn’t exist. You get to wear whatever you desire here.
While I acknowledge that feminism, Western and Eastern culture are much more complicated than that, this is in a nutshell how I’ve come to perceive people’s general notion on the subject. Flash forward to the year 2017 when I began to tell people of my move to the U.A.E, I quickly became annoyed when everyone’s question to me was, “Do you have to wear that thing on your head?” Because of course that’s the worst fate a woman could have. That and not being able to drive (a woman can in the U.A.E).
Forget access to healthcare, maternity leave, patriarchal notions in the Latino community (which I’m a part of) and all that other nonsense that doesn’t pertain to the U.S. Forget that I, along with most women I know, have dealt with misogyny my whole life.
Having said all this, upon landing in Abu Dhabi, I quickly realized that I too am not immune to certain judgments. I have dealt with minor culture shock, particularly with women wearing a burqa, hearing accents I’ve never heard, language barriers, smelling strong cologne/perfume. I met a Muslim woman who complained about being too hot in her traditional attire. She shared with me that there is a beach for women and children, but of course, “she would still be seen by the sky.”
Was she referring to disappointing Allah, or drones viewing her? Wherever you go, there you are. My curiosity about believers was reignited. She’s concerned in the same way a Christian might be about improper thoughts, or the way a Catholic might be about abstaining from meat on Fridays during lent.
It was a delightful conversation and I was happy to have made her acquaintance. Her name, if I remember correctly, is Nour, which means to light all the land. She certainly enlightened me and reinforced my belief that while it’s a big old world, we’ve more in common than we know.