My First Abaya

Your new year glow – like mine – may have worn off a bit by now. I did miss my resolution the second weekend of the month with visitors in town and overwhelmed by work  but made it up last Friday. I was never gladder to be in church than this last week as the worship was heartfelt as the person delivering the message. The palpable hope in the air, coupled with the fact of sitting with friends (and not by myself in the overflow room as often happens) saw me out the door with a spring in my step.

Part of going back to church this year was reclaiming my schedule: mostly my mind’s time dwelling on work and my body’s stationary presence in front of a computer.  I missed being in a community: more importantly I realized that with our first (and maybe only) pregnancy underway, I wanted to be living a more balanced life when this child came into the world.

Changing my weekly habits has been mirrored by the changes my body is going through: I am sleepy so early that I hardly seem like an adult anymore. But going to bed at eight p.m. has it’s advantages: getting up early. Even on Fridays, which were the days I couldn’t pry myself loose from the sheets. Now I find it hard to stay tuck in past nine in the morning.

Eating well: I have consumed more fruit in the last three weeks than I have in my entire life. Bananas, grapes, mandarin oranges, strawberries — there doesn’t seem to be anything I won’t eat.

And change of dress. I went with two students to have two abayas made. I have been known to say repeatedly "If I’m here while pregnant, I will wear an abaya the whole time."

Well, as my ‘bump’ started to grow and professional clothing became harder and harder to find, much less being one of a few women in an office with mostly men, I retreated into the abaya. In the period up until our news became public, those three months when everyone waits to make sure that the fetus is viable and won’t decide that now is not its time, the changes in your body are visible and yet hard to explain in modern society. Imagine living this in a country where most of the women are covered up and you have my predicament. Your brain and body are so taxed with hosting another life, the last thing you want to worry about is what to wear or what people think about what you look like. You want to get up, do your job, and get home.

I loved the folds; how it hide my leggings and tank top; how it smoothed over the growing lumps of my bust; how it jazzed up my overall look on days I could barely get out of bed.

It’s true that men behave differently towards me now than they have before I escaped into the voluminous folds. They give me a much wider berth; shopkeepers are often more polite. The abject stares are somewhat mitigated as the abaya demands privacy — respect.

Four years ago when I was starting my first few weeks at the national university, I tried a headscarf with little success. (Read about that here: ). Now I wonder why it never occurred to me to try an abaya. Maybe I wasn’t ready then. But I am so glad that I am now.

It brings home to me the fact that developing world feminists have touted about the veil and other forms of dress. When a woman chooses it for herself, it can be very, very empowering.

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Reader Comments

  1. Anonymous

    My First comment!

    As promised, here is my first ‘pointless’ comment! 😛

    Loved the post, and congrats again on your pregnancy! see you on Monday!

    Yours truly,

    ‘The Poet’ aka Nasser

  2. Rachel

    I want an abaya! And I want to learn how to tie a proper headscarf. Perhaps I can convince you to take me to get fitted one day.

    Great post by the way, I love the perspective of wearing the abaya. I think I’ll share this post with some friends and family back home.

  3. Chris

    I think this is a wonderful angaoly that the normality of life goes on everywhere . And if it wasn’t just the extreme behaviors that made the news, westerners would have a much better idea of what goes on over ther instead of working on mystery, assumptions and rumor. I often think of the kid who is about the blow himself, and other people up, and I know this cannot be the act of one of the normal people of the population , this is a severe act. (I also think, if someone would have spent the energy used to turn him encouraging him to educate himself or offer him a paying job, he’d not be doing this right now.) If you want to truly understand a person’s culture and life, you have to go taste, see and smell it. Thats why we need more boring articles like this. It had a wonderful taste and smell, and I think I saw something new Good Job!

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