Monday, September 1, 2014

A 'Free' Ride

I've been in the US for a few months now - where I also dress to fit in - usually shorts and t-shirts in the humid summer months.  As I reflect back on my clothing choices this spring - the topic of fashion and community continues to busy my thoughts.  How does what I wear define me and express my values?  What messages does my material presentation send to others?  And how can that message be interpreted or used to make a statement?  

One particular trip to Aqaba this spring stands out in my mind. 
I've just finished my weekly visit to Rum Village and head to Aqaba for the day.  One of my colleagues drops me off at the Rest House, located at the edge of the village, to wait for the bus.  The morning sun shines a golden light over the scene; the world is set aglow with vivid oranges, reds and browns.   I stand quietly by a sandstone wall as people move around me.  Guys from the village hang with their camels, green-plated tourist minivans packed with sightseers come and go.  It's a bustling area and I'm a silent black smudge in a sea of gold.

'Hey!' a guy shouts at me.  'Are you going to Aqaba?'

'N3m. (Yes).'  I answer and nod.

He's a local Rum guide and he beckons me over to a gold mini van with tourist plates.  I cross the road to where he stands.  As he opens the back, he gestures at me to put my bag in.

'Do you need anything?' I ask - a gentle way of asking if anyone needs to be paid for the ride.

'You're Muslim, right?,' he replies.  'Don't worry about it.'

We walk around to the side of the van where a group of French women stand together.  As far as contrasts go, our clothing couldn't be more different.  They wear colorful short shorts and tank tops.  I'm covered in black from head to foot.

'Take this nice girl wherever she wants to go.'  He gestures at me again as he speaks to the driver. 

Their tour leader, who speaks French and Arabic, appears to be of North African descent - she's got bright, curly bleached blonde hair held back by a bandana.  I wonder if the bandana is an attempt at modesty.   She glances at me and then leans in to kiss cheek the guy who offered the ride.  It's clear that we express our modesty differently in this space.  :)

The French women stand back as I enter the van first - straight into the back seat.

They ask me a few simple questions.

'It's surprising.  Her English is quite good,' says the tour leader in French.  I pretend not to understand.

The rest of the ride is uneventful.  I reflect that very few things in life are free.

Outside the Rest House, Wadi Rum