2009
12.17

If you know me, you will agree:  I am a conservative dresser; covered, usually, from neck to toe with baggy clothes in subdued colors.   In Pakistan I got a lot of compliments for my outfits.  Without even trying, I fit the cultural expectations of modesty, yet looked still different enough to do justice to my identity as a foreigner and a visitor.  The only addition I had in Pakistan was my scarf.  Even that, I forgot at the most crucial moment when visiting Benazir Bhutto’s grave and… I got away with it.  I expect no problems on this trip in Lebanon, Syria, UAE, and even Afghanistan.

Iran, however, seems to be a different ballgame.  Dark colored chadors (burkas which show the face) I am told, are expected of respectable women and there is no way I can go that far.  I would get away with less if I were with a male companion, but I am alone.  In a chador one no longer has arms!  To carry a back-pack and to photograph I need arms.   Just imagine that backpack underneath the chador… The alternative?  No body shape whatsoever!

Today, I did a home fashion show.  I managed to wear six layers of clothes; one layer baggier than the previous.  This catches two birds with one stone.  I have to manage huge temperature drops from January to April, from night to day, from mountain to sea.  Wearing six layers is useful.  In fact, I turned the house heat down to 55 and was more than warm.  The trick is that even after taking off one or two layers, the remaining layers have to be as effective in concealing the body and in satisfying the sharia fashion police as the full six layer fleet.  I managed!  I look like the most ridiculous shapeless square you can imagine.  I think I will pass.

Shoes- don’t forget to think about feet:  Women cannot show ankles, feet, leg shapes, or wear open shoes.  Cabela’s came in handy:  I got men’s hunting socks and ugly, big, clunky shoes that will repel rain and manage mud and dirt.  Those socks are the warmest socks I have ever seen.  Pair them with tights underneath, leggings on top and baggy linen trousers and those clunker shoes, and you have the most bewildering layering of colors and textiles in that leg area which surely will pass inspection.  I know that I will need to wear sandals as my feet will not last in those clunker shoes.  But with this combination of four layers of pants and socks nobody can accuse me of not trying.

And finally, I had a stroke of inspiration when I read that most respect is given to women who are married.  I need a wedding band!  Thank goodness for that gone-by marriage.  I searched the house and found my old wedding band.   I am going to wear it.  And I will go by “Um Martin” – in Jordan I was addressed like that as “the mother of Martin”.  I wonder if the same standards apply on my trip this time or if all of this will be different.  I will find out.  For now I can only prepare and get ready.  Better to err on the side of caution.

Note: The picture of me wearing a hijab or rusari (head scarf) was added after my trip.  It was taken at the visa extension office in Shiraz where they did not like my uncovered picture from the first Iran visa.

3 comments so far

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  1. I’m not sure that ‘Um Martin’ would go over well in Iran since it’s not an Arabic-speaking country…

  2. You may just lose a ton of weight, wanted or not, carrying around 20lbs. of clothing daily. Not including your bag and camera, OY!

  3. With all of those layers, you will be very a-peeling.