Wednesday, 9 February 2011

A window on their world

A few days ago, I had another appointment with my doctor to talk about my post-natal depression. There's good news on that score: I'm feeling much better and I'm coming off the tablets in a month's time.

My doctor is a lovely Muslim woman from the Lebanon. She wears brightly coloured clothes that always reach to her wrists and ankles, and a head scarf, quite often in a pretty fabric. On this particular visit we had time to chat as her assistant was making a meal out of sorting out my insurance eligibility.

I can't remember how it started, but we got to talking about women wearing the abaya (black full body gown) and veil here. My doctor told me about dress rules in her home country. She says that many Muslim women there don't wear any kind of head covering at all. My doctor actually didn't cover her head until she had her children. She apparently took the head scarf into hospital with her when she was in labour, and put it on as she left. For her, it was an important sign to the outside world about how things had changed for her, and how seriously she was taking her faith.

It was interesting to hear her views on women wearing the veil. Where we live, many local women do. My doctor's view is that this is a cultural decision, rather than a religious one. Their families and friends all do it, and so it continues. Interestingly, my doctor said it often unnerved her. She said she found standing next to a fully veiled woman in public toilets made her think that there could possibly be a man underneath the outfit! I'd never thought of it that way. Luckily, most women unveil in toilets, as far as I've seen.

For me, it's more an issue of not being able to see a person's whole face when they're speaking to me. It's odd not being able to read someone's expression. My son was at the doctors' the other day and a lovely lady in a veil was making clucking noises at him, and, I think, smiling. However, he started to cry - all he could see was a black veil and couldn't understand where the sound was coming from. I guess he'll learn, growing up here!

I read an interesting comment online the other day by a Muslim woman who wears a Hijab, asking about arrangements for an all-woman dinner. She was asking whether it would be like the Muslim weddings she's been to here, where all camera phones are banned and all the waiters are women. This was because she wanted to "dress up" (i.e wear a ball gown and make-up, something I know women here love to do at special events. The shops are full of glamourous gowns!) She was worried that her photo would get taken and that a photo of her uncovered would appear online somewhere. It just seemed such an alien concern, and yet of course very real.

Just a few windows on their world. Fascinating.



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