Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Experience in a Hijab.

I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. Egyptian men swear Egyptian women get harassed just as much if not more than foreign women. I didn't buy it. The one thing I hate here is the amount of harassment. It is endlessly frustrating. I decided I was going to fully cover myself and try wearing a hijab to see the differences. I wanted to see the difference in social interactions, the amount of attention and harassment. Maggie, Jamie and Raina decided to tag along. We decided on a having a typical night: metro ride to a different district, dinner, walking around, shopping and returning home. The only difference this time was wearing hijabs. We talked with our adviser Randa about it, who always looks perfect in her hijab, matching colors and perfectly wrapped. She was excited to see what happened as well and helped us pin them correctly- though we each chose different styles. I prefer the double wrap with two different scarves, one kind of see-through in order to see the plain style underneath. There are tons of websites on Hijabi fashion too. ( is one some of my friends look at)
Randa showed us the different ways of pinning them to frame your face and tuck your hair back, and then we were off. We made a pact to only speak Arabic throughout the night. We chose to head to Dokki which is a fun family district decently close to the middle of the city. Walking through the hotel some of the workers recognized me and exclaimed 'ah! you are even more beautiful in a hijab!' I wasn't sure if I thought that was a compliment or not.
The moment I hit the street I there was a difference. To my surprise, it was actually quite nice. We walked toward the metro but this time without whistles, hisses and glances in our direction. We blended into the daily grind with everyone rushing to and fro. People asked us questions automatically in Arabic and then only afterward were surprised by our accents. I suppose the assumption was even though we still are clearly not Egyptian, our hijabs suggested we were Muslim which generally means Arabic speakers. We still received a few, where are you from questions. But all in all the attention must have decreased by at least seventy percent. Walking in the streets you could tell people were a bit curious, but there were significantly fewer vocalized thoughts. Dinner was a breeze. We were given Arabic menus without asking and spoke in Arabic the entire time. It was a huge moral boost to realize that we can have hour long conversations in Arabic on both normal and interesting topics and understand each other. We walked around a bit and bought a few things and headed home. All of these tasks are usually completed without hassle because we have learned to ignore most comments and have adapted to act like an Egyptian. Though clearly foreigners, we are no longer tourists. Nine times out of ten I get Egyptian prices and am able to converse well with people on the street. But tonight was different. Tonight is difficult to summarize because I felt contentment in a feeling. I felt safer. I felt more invisible. Then on the way back I became frustrated with myself for enjoying the feeling of invisibility. Part of me wants to wear a hijab when I go out at night because quite frankly it saves time, grief and hassle. The other part of me was frustrated because I feel like I fell victim to the cycle that the Egyptian males perpetuate for the females. Women feel like they need to wear hijabs because men make women not completely covered feel extremely uncomfortable. If I give in to what I feel is muted cultural suppression I feel like I am not representing who I truly am. And when it all comes back down to it, isn't that what a hijab is supposed to do: Outwardly demonstrate your inward beliefs.

1 comment:

  1. This was very interesting to read. Sounds like an emotional rollercoaster you experienced. I would be torn too, on what I would do. Does this now make you wonder if the true use of a hajab is to feel safe which would be the woman's true inner feelings of themselves?


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