ON Thinking I Might Have Been Mistaken for a Prostitute….

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So I was staying at hotel in Oman. My friend and I bought tickets to see a show in the Royal Opera House in Muscat.

And it was beautiful! Both inside and out!

It was my first time in Oman and like I wrote in a previous post, I had opted to be muhajiba for a weekend rather than deal with potential street harassment.

I kept myself covered and men largely kept their distance. Well after the show my friend and I went back to our hotel and had dinner there. I, being the forgetful Susan that I am, left my phone in the restaurant and had to go back downstairs to get it. … After I had already put my pajamas on!

Not hijab appropriate at all!…. do I throw my abaya on and shayla (the scarf that comes it the abaya) and head down stairs. My friend and I were joking about something as I left the room and closed the door. A man apparently had just left his room a few doors down, stopped and turned around when he heard my voice, and no doubt saw me fidgeting with scarf.

Now, please note, my hotel room was as far away from the elevator as you can get and still be in the hotel. So after a 2 minute walk in silence, I reached the elevator. The man was there. He had already pushed the button.

Of course, as I said, people were pretty much always assuming I am Arab while in Oman. And this guy was no different. He greeted me in Arabic with a “Hi, how are you?” and I replied with a “I’m good thanks, how are you” but in Egyptian dialect. He was a bit confused but whatever.

Then, before we enter the elevator and he asks me, “Wayn al disco?” (where is the disco/club?) I was confused as heck and wasn’t really sure why he was aksing me this. I replied that I didn’t know.

He then asked me where I lived. Again, strange as heck question for someone you meet in a hotel. He did not ask where I am from, but rather where do I live. He then asked if I was staying at the hotel or something like that.

I just said, I am of course a guest at the hotel but I don’t live in Oman. The man then proceeds to ask me again about where the disco is. At this point he is creeping me out and we are both in the elevator.

I just tell him with as much indignation as I can muster, that I don’t know nothing about no disco and that he can ask at the concierge desk (which is where I was headed to see if they had my phone). Why was he still asking me about the disco? Why was he being so insistent about it?  I got off on the ground floor, but the guy stayed in the elevator, headed no doubt, to the disco on the lower floors (so he knew where it was all along?????)d….

I got my phone and went back to my room, but reflected on the incident and decided that this guy was looking for something more than just the disco. His barely coded language flew right by me because I don’t know nothing about that stuff… ha ha…

An in retrospect walking out of a hotel room while looking like I was adjusting my clothing (at around midnight) probably led him to jump to some crazy conclusions.

A word on why I think he might have been Saudi… 1. The way he was dressed. He was not wearing Omani clothing and was dressed more like Oman’s richer Gulf Arab neighbors.

He pretty much was dressed like the guy in middle in the all white

2. He didn’t look Emirati or Qatari… not that I have seen every single one, but his features and skin tone didn’t strike me as Emirati or Qatari, based upon my time in both places. 3. His accent. I am not a Gulf dialect expert at all, but he didn’t sound like the Qataris or Emiratis I have heard speak.

But I could be wrong on the nationality front. Truth is, I will never know.

Maybe there is a benign perfectly good explanation for this man’s weird behavior… but I doubt it.

ON Travelling to Other Parts of the Arab World, the limits of the Egyptian Dialect and Surprising Interactions Pt I

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So Gazelle has done a little travelling as of late…. I figure I don’t post much about my experiences here, but I might as well let this blog get back to it’s travel blog roots.

This past weekend I went to Beirut, Lebanon. The weekend before that, I went to Muscat Oman. Yup, Yup. Now, I have two more Arab countries to add to the list, and two more sets of experiences to deconstruct, ya know, as a an (African) American woman traveling abroad and all.. ha ha..

But until we get into more detail, I will say that I was super apprehensive about going to either place, because of what I had heard/read/expected my experience to be as a clearly black woman. Both places pleasantly surprised me!

However, a weekend in a place, at the Crowne Plaza (Gazelle is too old to do that hostel stuff anymore…. Hah a) in each city is not exactly the same as say, living in the old Medina of Rabat or Alexandria, Egypt. With that caveat aside, I will say the following:

I went to Oman wearing a scarf, because my Sudanese friend (who by African-American Standards has that “good hair” and looks like a Creole) said that people straight up laughed in her face because her hair got frizzy as she walked around the souk… what??!!!

Ugh. Ignorance is ridiculous. I just didn’t want to deal with that so, like I said, I was hijabi for a weekend. I’ve been mistreated for my color/features enough to know that her experience could very well be my own., and I took her perspective seriously.

I think I looked something like this… then I wore an abaya as well… Apparently that was enough

I do think covering gave me a veil (no pun intended) of respectability that I may not have had otherwise, but whatever. Whatever the reason, people were largely super nice to me. No one acted like I was weird, other-wordly or pointed out that my skin color is a dark brown.  Apparently I can pass for an Omani (yay Afro-Arabs… the head covering probably helped with that)… or at least Arab (no surprise there). People would walk up to me and just start speaking Arabic, without any prompting. I must admit, this made me feel at home. So yes, I enjoyed Oman, even if I got propositioned by a (Saudi?) man. More on that in a future post.

Lebanon. Finally , I made it to the Levant. I was apprehensive about Lebanon, because of personal experiences with Levant Arabs and because of what I have heard as well…. Just google it and you will find a number of websites like this or this BBC article from last month about a photo exhibition on race and racism in Lebanon. Race/colorism is alive and well in Arab communities, but I’ve also realized that speaking with the Egyptian dialect, while it might give me more respect/passage as a someone who can “pass” for Arab, also puts me at a certain socio-economic box in people’s minds (more on this idea later). Add that to my dark skin, and most people come with “Oh, she’s a Sudanese girl who grew up in Egypt.” Le sigh.

Needless to say, the Lebanese have beacoup cache in the Arab World and beyond. And I was worried about seeming like a bumpkin. In the words of a coworker who recently made a trip to Beirut and stayed in the flashier part of town, “Lebanese folk were confused that a black woman could afford to stay in a nice hotel and wasn’t in fact a maid or a babysitter.”

Ugh, who wants to deal with that?

As proof that I’m not making this stuff up, it’s real problem, a real, deal problem in Lebanon

Alhamdullilah, I stayed in the nice part of town, but no one seemed to care. I didn’t receive any stares, no one called me names. In fact, everyone was pretty nice, even when I wasn’t in Beirut. They did note my Egyptian accent though, and the reaction to that was mixed: Honestly, I think I want to work on speaking Darija (Moroccan dialect) to people/using that accent more.

Or perhaps I need to develop a vanilla, devoid of any real regional specificity type Arabic dialect that I can speak when I travel.

As you can see, there are so many ways to say one thing….

Why does it matter? Because appearances matter, like everywhere. And I am tired of people making snap judgments about me based on their assumptions. I prefer to remain an enigma…. Ha ha…