As an empowered woman who celebrates her sexuality, I was interested to see how a burqa would make me feel. Would I feel oppressed? Or would I feel relieved in not being viewed as a sex object?
What I actually experienced was so unexpected it completely surprised me and everyone around me.
Before I traveled to Kuwait, my opinion on women being veiled in the Middle East was that it is not oppression if a woman makes her own choice to be veiled. So I found it ironic that my experiment from bellydance to burqa would be all about choice. Unbeknownst to me, there are many pieces to the abaya (what a burqa is called in the Gulf States) and many styles to choose from.
Jessica and Dorothy, my generous hostesses from the US Embassy, brought me to a Starbucks to watch the fashion show of abayas to help me select one that would suit me. The coffee shop is the social gathering place since alcohol is prohibited and there are no nightclubs. After purchasing an iced Cafe Americano that cost me $15 US dollars (the exchange rate is $3.75 for each Kuwaiti Dinar), I sat down to discreetly watch the parade. A full abaya consists of: a loose-fitting black robe, a hijab (head scarf), niqab (face veil). Also, some women wear gloves and socks. Though the purpose is to completely cover the woman's body, many burqas have elaborate adornments. And of course, the bellydancing showgirl in me immediately chose the one covered in rhinestones. Everything looks better with rhinestones!
From Starbucks we went to the open-air souk to purchase my abaya. Then came the question: what do I wear underneath? Do I wear ordinary western clothes? Long pants and a top? My favorite lingerie? What is appropriate? I decided to that because this was an experiment to see what I would feel like to wear a burqa, I would wear exactly what I would be wearing under these circumstances: a bellydance costume.
My bellydance classes were held at the US Embassy and the students were from many different backgrounds: from the first female US Ambassador to Kuwait (Deborah K Jones in photo to the right) to an American Nurse to a Kuwaiti Housewife to a US Military wife. The first day of my workshop consisted of breaking down basic moves and teaching isolations. The second day, I taught a complete bellydance choreography. On the third day, I taught them how to make their own bellydance costume. They do not sell anything associated with bellydance costumes in Kuwait --no rhinestones, no beads, and no sequins--so I brought a suitcase full of costume sparkles from Los Angeles. I decided to conduct my "burqa" experiment on costume day since my students would not need to see any movements.
Posted on Thu, June 12, 2008
by Ms. Dolphina