Saturday, March 13, 2010

Abayat and Nuqub

Last night after the fireside we had Hayley and Nacia and Jaehee and Aden over to play games, specifically Risk. In Arabic.

I’ve never played Risk before, but Andrew loves it and since I’m devoted to him I decided to give it a try. For years we’ve been pitted against each other in our game playing—scrabble, dominoes, fluxx, what-have-you—but last night we divided into teams. Andrew and I played on the same team. It was interesting to get to work together instead of against each other.

Andrew let me place half of our countries—I swear it took me like ten minutes to read the name on the card and then find the country on the map. Andrew finished his half in like 20 seconds…


We didn’t end up winning, but we did take out Nacia and Hayley. For their consolation prize they got to place a game piece where the ruins of the Titanic are. Or, at least where we guessed they were/are. Our map isn’t exactly to scale and we have fun countries like “Wastern United States,” “Ukranine,” and “Gongo,” so if it isn’t exactly where the Titanic lies, it’s close enough according to our map.


While we were playing we got to chatting about some of the things we want to do while we’re still here. Most of us will be gone by the fall, except for Aden, who will be staying on for his last semester. Jaehee is leaving him to start dental school at Tufts in Boston—she’s basically a genius—he’ll catch up with her when he finishes his program. Nacia and Hayley are in limbo like us but will most likely be moving on to do…something…

I mentioned that I wanted to dress in authentic Egyptian garb: abaya, niqab, gloves. Everything.

I just think it would be interesting to become invisible to prying eyes for a minute, to escape from being a “foreigner” and, alternatively, to see just how hot it really is under all those layers. I want to take out my camera and snap pictures at will just to see if people will still yell at me. I want to ride on the metro without half the passengers staring at me. And I just want to see what it’s like.

Nacia, Jaehee, and Hayley quickly jumped on board and we decided to make a day out of it—we’d all procure abayat and nuqub and then we’d choose a day and head out on the town together.

This afternoon Hayley, Jaehee, and I began to make our plans come to pass by heading to Dar es-Salaam to look at abayat.


I found one abaya that I liked a lot and asked the store owner how much it was. He told me it was 150 LE, which was far too expensive for my taste. We left his shop and poked around a bit further down the alley and noticed rack after rack after rack of abayat labeled ٣٥.

That’s 35 LE!

We marched back to the first store we went into and I rifled through the dresses until I found one that had a price tag.

٣٥جـ, also.

“How much is this one?” I asked the owner.

“That one is also 150 LE. All my abayat are 150 LE.”

“But this,” I said, showing him the tag, “Says it is only 35 LE.”

“That’s not a real price tag.”

“Yes, it is.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Yes, it is.”

“Look, some dresses are 35 LE. If you want a cheap dress, you can go and pay for a cheap dress. But my dresses are quality. They are more expensive.”

After a few more minutes of getting no where I said goodbye to that pretty dress and left to find another decent dress. One that didn’t have too many glittering sequins or neon feathers or anything like that. I found one and paid my 35 LE.

Then we went to a shop next door to buy a niqab. The young boy running that shop was so patient with us while we tried to communicate with him. My niqab cost 17.50, which was alright. We tried to barter him down but he insisted that was the actual “local” price and if he went any lower he would get in trouble from his boss.

After I paid him for the niqab he asked if I also wanted gloves.

“You have the dress, you have the veil. You can’t forget the gloves!”

I asked how much they were.

“Three fifty,” he said.

“Thirty pounds?!” gasped Hayley, “That’s ridiculous!”

“I’m pretty sure he said three,” I said.

“I heard thirty.”

“That’s as much as a dress!”

“I know, right! That’s ridiculous.”

I turned to face the boy.

“Can I see your cheapest gloves?” I asked.

“These are the cheapest gloves,” he said.

“But they’re thirty pounds!” Hayley said, “That’s expensive!”

“They’re not expensive,” he insisted, “They are only three pounds!”

“Only three?” we all echoed.

He held up three fingers.

“Thahlathah,” he assured us, “wa noos.”

That’s 63 cents (USD). I bought the gloves. They are nice and stretchy and even look okay on my deformed thumbs. I like them a lot and think they look kind of classy so I might just buy a few more pairs to use as winter gloves back in the States.

He kept trying to make friends with Rachel, of course, but she didn’t want much to do with her. Whenever he said anything to him she would give him “the hand” and yell,

“No! My name is Rachel!”

I had to explain, with Hayley’s help, that she doesn’t like that everyone is always trying to kiss her. He understood and promised her that he wouldn’t kiss her.

“No! You just stay over there. My name is Rachel! Ma’salama!”

After I had finished shopping and we were waiting for Jaehee to decide if she was going to buy a niqab today as well, the first shopkeeper came bustling into the shop, begging us to come back and buy something at his store, too.

“When I told you 150 LE it was because I thought you were foreigners! I can see now that you are locals! All my dresses are 35 LE, as well! Come and buy a dress from my store!”

Unfortunately for him we were finished with his store—there was no way he could entice us back inside. We left to buy some fruit (18 cents for a pound of strawberries? yum) to take home to our husbands and also stopped at the spice market to pick up some gourds (for crafting purposes, of course).


Then we hopped on the metro with all of our purchases and headed home—poor Miriam was so hot, sweaty, tired, and crowded-out that she squawked a few times on the ride home and shot me her best pouty-faces. She should sleep well tonight.


When I got home I put on my abaya and niqab to model for Andrew (which is kind of backwards since, generally, you put them on when you go outside and model regular clothes for your husband at home). Rachel wasn’t watching when I put them on, I guess, and was pretty shocked to see a veiled woman in our house.

“Where’s my mom?” she asked.

She could hardly believe it when Andrew told her that the woman in black was her mother. When I stretched out my hand to her she screamed and ran away, then came back to yell, “I’m not afraid of you!” before running to hide again. I must have been pretty convincing as an Egyptian—maybe she thought I wanted to kiss her.


Turns out she was feigning terror, though. Later while we were working in the kitchen she kept saying,

“Remember when you wore a costume and I ‘tended to be afraid?”

Bummer. It’s probably the blue eyes that give it away. At any rate, I’m ready for our little social experiment.

(And I might just swing by again to see if I can buy the abaya I originally wanted for 35 LE…)


  1. Josie says, go in like that, and you should get the 35 LE price. Or wait and go there when she is there so she can get one, too.

  2. The real questions is: will you wear your glasses over or under? Will you all go get something to eat? Interesting!

  3. I got an abaya and niqab in Syria but I never had the guts to wear it outside. Let me know if you do it so I can hear all about it!

  4. @ Mom -- I'll definitely take Josie down there.

    @ Lydia -- Outside, definitely. Already tried both ways.

    @ Bridget -- Were you afraid I wouldn't tell you about it? 'Cuz, I'm pretty open about things like this... ;)

  5. You're a good person to play risk. I hate that game. Josh loves it. Maybe he can make Andrew play with him when you guys are back.

    You are BEAUTIFUL in black. I can't wait to hear how the experiment goes!

  6. Let me tell you the result of the experiment in advance: Everyone will think you're a rich Arabian gulf lady and you'll be charged twice as much as an American would be :)