(Written January 2012) The other day I borrowed the car, after dropping my husband off at work around eight. My adventure for the day was to hit The Avenues Mall. I had no idea when the mall opened, but figured I could window shop until the stores awoke. I found myself with almost an hour to kill before Carrefour, the grocery store, opened, with the rest of the stores following at ten. During my hour of perusing the Rolexes, the Jimmy Choos, and double-take earrings with emeralds the size of Chiclets, I saw mostly mall employees prepping the stores or buffing the floors. It was quiet and clean and I can see how this could be a weekly pastime for expat moms, particularly with babies in strollers during the summer.
There were a few other non-employees like me milling about, but unlike me, and my lazy perusing, these were the Kuwaiti mall walkers. They didn’t clump in a group, but rather walked alone, and most were women. Clad completely in black (some with face scarves and gloves, others with just the head scarf and galabeya). But other than the outfit, they were just as determined as the mall walkers back home, who seem like they wouldn’t break stride and might even hurdle your crumpled form if need be. I kept my eye on them as we passed during our routes, and like any time you come across someone else actively exercising, I suddenly felt very tired and sloth-like. But I pushed through and at nine o’clock did my grocery shopping with great deliberation, since I still had an hour to kill. Luckily Carrefour is a huge Wal-Mart-like store so I ambled happily.
Much like back home, many of the mall stores were advertising big post-holiday sales, so once everything opened, I took a wander through Bath & Body Works. As I was choosing my sale items (which now made them just below the U.S. prices) I found myself rubbing elbows with an Arab man, wearing his traditional garb, and studying with great concentration the shower gels, obviously trying to decide between Sensual Amber and Moonlight Path (my vote would be for Moonlight, but I didn’t feel it was my place to interject).
This was one of those moments where your expat mind has to take a few extra seconds to process what you’re seeing, because it doesn’t add up with what you’re used to. I’m finding that despite the modernity of daily life here, many of the people have maintained the look they’ve had for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. The men wear dishdashas, similar to a long lightweight robe (typically in white). Sometimes they wear a kefiya or ghutra (cloth head-dress in white or red-checked, similar to those worn in Saudi Arabia) with an agal/akal (black ring used to weigh it down). The women wear a galabeya/jellabiya, like the men’s dishdasha, but typically in black, and a hijab (head covering). Some may wear a burqa, which covers the hair and face entirely, or a niqab, which covers the face and is worn in conjunction with the hijab (it really isn’t as confusing as it sounds). Unlike Egypt, most of the women here wear all black, none of the peacock plumage I used to love seeing in Cairo. Granted, a lot of the black is adorned with jewels and sparkles, and the fabrics here are obviously rich and luxurious. Some women who descend from the bedu people (desert dwellers) may even wear a fuller face-covering that completely hides them, where you can’t even see their eyes. One book I read said these women, “are fiercely proud of their right to be protected from the gaze of men”. I believe this is primarily used for public settings, and non-familial men, and it’s probably not used when driving or chopping vegetables.
After leaving Bath & Body Works, where the poor man was still mulling (I think the scents were getting to him), I wandered through a few more sales, Pottery Barn Kids, Gap Kids, things like that. And I ended my three-hour mall-walking at Ikea, where I happily purchased a mattress for our crib (which is good, considering I'd also managed to acquire some adorable sheets at Pottery Barn). All in all, a quite successful mall walking day.