Bob and I walked the Pearl. He wore a tee shirt and to-the-knee shorts, just as he might stateside. I wore shin length, sweat wicking capris with a hip shielding tee shirt. No shoulder revealing tank tops or visible running bra for me; nope. No thigh high Nike jogging pants; uh-uh. Even as we sped, arms swinging, past strolling expats in spaghetti straps and tight dresses. As more of Qatar's expat women toss aside scarves and modest attire, I persist in covering up.
Why, you ask? Because the Qataris asked me - and everyone else - to:
Please cover from shoulders to knees.
At 7:30pm lights across the bay twinkled, a party like reflection in the mirror smooth water. Brisk air temps not quite 100F; this is fall in Qatar. Still, 57% humidity and no wind translates to sweat drenched tee shirts and capris so heavy I tugged through my tee shirt to keep them at my waist.
Droopy drawers at ankles might not be modest, even if they were capris.
A golf cart swept past us. My eyes met the dark, mascara and pencil-lined orbs of one of two teen/young adult-ish girls. Both covered top to toe in abaya and sheyla, faces visible. They took up the two seat space at the back of the cart, facing the direction from which they'd come.
The young girl smiled at me; I smiled back. Her smile got bigger, so mine did too. I raised my arm and waved, and she waved back.
"Do you know them?" Bob said.
"No." And I thought:
Perhaps there isn't true freedom of speech in Qatar. Perhaps the ladies don't return my emails or phone calls. Perhaps I've worked hard to learn a language I'll never speak - in Qatar, at least. Perhaps all my efforts to get to know the people and culture were for nothing. Perhaps. Still, this beautiful (ma sha allah) young woman is smiling and waving and HEY, here's a connection!
The cart was speeding away fast and so was she, so I straightened my elbow and waved a half circle smile at her…which she returned.
"Why is she waving at you?" Bob said.
I shrugged. "Just like Western women like me are curious about the Middle Eastern ladies…I guess they're curious about us too."
Thanks to the abaya - and distance and dark - I'd never know her if I saw her again. Still, the exchange made me feel good. Like maybe I should keep writing? Even if it's no longer public. Even if there are no more hits from curious strangers living in places all over the globe. Even if it's just for me (and my mom and dad).