My Scattered Soul, Part 1

Little bits of me are scattered all across this world. In essence, I am not really wholly or completely FROM or OF anywhere.

If you’ve read the ‘Who am I?’ sidepanel of the blog, then you should have an idea about the places I’ve lived in. I was born in Riyadh, KSA and I lived there with my family till I was about 6. I have no true memory of this time in my life, I guess I was way too young, so I just have pictures as reminders.

I do remember one thing that seems to befit the extremely orthodox environment of KSA quite well: I must have been 5 years old or so at the time and I was walking in some market with my family. My sister, being 7 years older than me and thus considered a ‘woman’ rather than a child, had to cover her head and she had a scarf on; I remember feeling jealous and left out about this, I wanted a scarf too! My sister walked ahead of me with my mom while I seethed with envy, and she kept adjusting her scarf from the back over and over again even though it was perfectly fine. I had a strong feeling she was just doing it because having this new garment and the responsibility that came with it made her feel important and all grown-up. I kept watching as her arm curved backward around her spine and her fingers reached to tug ever so slightly at the pointed tip of the scarf, and I just could not stand it any more. Without thinking, I skipped ahead, reached up to grab her black lace-edged scarf, and yanked it down triumphantly.

I must have stood there grinning for just about a second before the loud, furious wrath of my mother filled my ears. Had I no idea what I’d done? Was I out of my mind? Why must I behave so childishly? And I hope I knew that I was never going to be taken out to the market ever again! To be honest, I really didn’t understand the significance of what I’d done then; to me, pulling down my sister’s scarf was a gleeful act of mischief. But in the larger scheme of things, it went beyond that. KSA has Mutawwas, or Religious Police, who, at that time (I make this distinction because I have no idea about the current conditions, and simply reading about them does not give me enough right to write about them), roamed around the streets, looking out for anyone who violated the country’s laws and regulations about ‘the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.’ Even now, the topic of how the Religious Police began cracking down on people in the streets of Riyadh is one that often comes up in my household. One of their duties was to make sure everyone followed the religiously approved dress code, and this included checking to see if all women had their heads completely covered. By pulling down my sister’s scarf, I basically made her a prime target for the Mutawwas, and this was pretty serious stuff. I don’t know what could have happened if she’d been seen by them for the time that her head was left uncovered, but thankfully that lasted only about 2 minutes. Flustered, humiliated and very, very irritated by her baby sister, she quickly pulled her black scarf back on, adjusting it so not a single strand of hair was left visible, and then shoved me before joining my mother up ahead once more.

I still think I had the upper hand, though. She stopped pulling and trying to fix the scarf again and again after that.

p.s: THIS is how serious the views of the Religious Police are on the matter of women’s propriety and dress code:
“Saudi Arabia’s religious police stopped schoolgirls from leaving a blazing building because they were not wearing correct Islamic dress, according to Saudi newspapers.
In a rare criticism of the kingdom’s powerful “mutaween” police, the Saudi media has accused them of hindering attempts to save 15 girls who died in the fire on Monday.”

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1874471.stm

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3 Comments

  1. err… i dunno what to say/react to the “mutawwas”… how do they justify letting 15 young people die like that? wouldn’t that almost be like murder?

    Reply

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