I'm not much of a photographer. I really only take pictures to put in my scrapbook. In case you haven't noticed, I'm more of a writer. BUT, pictures do capture a lot. So I'm going to try and take a picture or two once a day and post them, so you can get a sense of what it is like to be an expat woman living in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia).
I've written about the abaya, but some of you may not have a clue what it looks like. An abaya is a long, black robe, with long sleeves. It is hot, despite the thin fabric. It is shapeless. I feel like Harry Potter without ANY cool powers like magic. And it is part of my life here.
I know my picture isn't the greatest. You can't see that the abaya goes down to my ankles. This particular abaya has a hood that I can put over my head if I need or want to cover my hair. Saudi women wear abayas like this. I've never seen a Saudi woman without a hijab (a head covering). There are many Saudi women who will wear half veils, covering their nose and mouth. Some veils cover the forehead, nose, mouth, and cheeks, with small slits for eyes. And other veils completely cover the face (no slits or anything).
I personally can't imagine wearing a veil all the time. I find it challenging enough to put on a hot, black abaya over my street clothes in a desert country. Though, in theory, I could be wearing a bathing suit underneath and no one would be the wiser.
One way to distinguish foreign women is that we don't wear a head covering or veil. You can be approached by religious police and be "invited" to cover your hair. This hasn't happened to me, but it is a good practice to have a scarf or hood available at all times when out in public. I've been told by many people that Riyadh, the country's capital, is much more conservative than the rest of the kingdom. Women in other cities can even wear colored abayas. (Wow! So liberal!) Girls who haven't reached puberty generally don't wear abayas. But I have seen little girls wearing abayas. Yesterday, at the mall, my daughter asked if I would get her an abaya. When I asked her why, she said she wanted to look like me.
I don't know all the reasons why Saudi women wear the abaya. I don't care to comment on it until I do have more information.
I do know that no one wears short sleeves here or shorts. I remembered this yesterday when at the mall and realized that my three of my kids were wearing short-sleeved shirts. I think they were the only kids in the entire mall so dressed. When my husband first started going to KSA for business trips, he quickly realized that his short-sleeved shirts were inappropriate. We were able to find him some clothing that would work well in a desert environment but also not offend anyone. Some Saudi men wear robes and head coverings. Others are very stylish in their western clothes.
One thing that I find particularly strange about women wearing the abaya is seeing the clothing displayed in shops. There are a lot of designer shops with very western clothes. Including clothes that would be, according to these modesty standards I hear so much about here, very immodest. I find the contrast interesting. Perhaps in this case, the abaya allows the women to dress as they please without offending the general population or the law.
ETA: Western compounds generally restrict the wearing of abayas on site. I live on a western compound and am free from the restriction in most of my daily life. However, when I go outside the compound walls I always wear the abaya.
ETA: While I don't love wearing an abaya, I get that it is an important religious and cultural custom. I primarily despise wearing a BLACK robe. Black abayas are neither practical nor particularly kind in this desert country where temperatures routinely soar above 100 degrees Farenheit.
I'm sure to post more about the subject, but for now, that's all I've got!