Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Modesty on the Metro

I took my last metro ride as a pregnant lady the night before Miriam was born. It was an impromptu ride so neither Andrew or I were really dressed for a jaunt downtown. When we leave the expat-world of Maadi we both prefer to dress a little more conservatively, meaning long pants for both and long sleeves for me.

It isn't like we were dressed terribly immodestly...I was wearing a shirt with three-quarter length sleeves and my capris hit mid-calf. Andrew was dressed up as a tourist in shorts and a t-shirt.

We had walked up Road 9 looking for new plugs for all our electronics that perished in the power surge and, finding nothing, headed to the Maadi Computer Mall, which is on the other side of the metro tracks and in a less expat area. Still Maadi, though, so we were dressed alright. Not great, but alright. When we found nothing at the computer mall, though, we decided to try the big computer mall downtown.

We went to the metro station, paid our fare, and stood on the platform waiting for the train to come. A group of ladies nearby started whispering and pointing. That's when we noticed we weren't quite dressed appropriately, but we were hoping they were just pointing at my belly, not my ankles.

We hopped on the train and someone offered me their seat, which I gratefully took.

That's when things started feeling really quite awkward.

On my right there was a man dressed in a white galabia. He had a long beard and was carrying a tasbih. Everything about him was very traditional, except that instead of an actual Qur'an he was carrying a cell phone with the text of the Qur'an on it. And he was reciting it.

On my left there was a munaqqabah sheathed in flowing black fabric from her head to toes, with only two little slits for her eyes to peek through.

I sat there conspicuously out of place for several stops, listening to the lilt of my seat companion's voice as he read the Qur'an and wondering what the lady on my left was thinking about my bare forearms and ankles. Finally, the man got up to disembark. His spot was taken by yet another munaqqabah.

I raised my eyebrows at Andrew.

"What?" he asked.

"I feel kind of immodest!" I said, moving my eyeballs dramatically to the right and then the left to point out my surrounding veiled metro peers.

"Oh, don't feel bad," Andrew said, indicating the woman on my left, "Her wrists are showing."

It was true. There was about a half-inch of skin peeking through between her sleeves and her gloves, which, now that I was scrutinizing her outfit, I noticed were obviously too small. It didn't quite make me feel better about showing off a 12 inches of skin on my arms and legs...but at least I wasn't the only one dressed immodestly on the metro.


  1. wow! what an experience.

  2. I never feel bad or out of place,specially not here in Cairo. I guess since in Libya I was about the only "immodest one" it made me not care, they believe in one way of modest and I believe in another.