Tuesday, 2 October 2012

No Men Allowed

Gentlemen, if you ever want to really punish a lady for some wrongdoing they have commited  towards you, just deposit them for a couple of hours at Bushra Mall, Riyadh. I went to this 'Ladies Mall' with two friends recently with the hope of being able to shed our Abayas and be free to shop in a trendy, relaxed environment.
Oh how wrong I was.
Going in to the carefully covered entrance, we were greeted with an area like a cloakroom at a club. Our bags were searched, my friends lighter was taken hostage and we were told to leave any phones or cameras there for the duration of our visit. What did they think we we're gonna do- take photos of these women in real clothes and spread them around for all of mankind to see? Shock horror.
Actually I did see one girl undo her Abaya when she walked in to reveal what was basically little more than a bra. Apparently it's quite a trend here to wear sexy underwear underneath and not a lot else.
So in we went to Bushra and I have to say I think it is a place that Allah forgot. I can only describe it as being made up of shops from the worst parts of Peckham: far too many sequins and unprovable 'discounts' in the windows. There was not one single shop I wanted to go in, and in fact we did only go in an Abaya shop the whole time we were there. I realised also that when people say 'Ladies Mall' it actually means 'Ladies and their 5000 screaming running kids, Mall.' There were so many children that it felt more like a daycare centre than anything else. People were having picnics on mats on the floor, like it was some kind of trip out to the park. And the weird thing was that at least half the women didn't take off their Abayas anyway, so we still got stared at by people who obviously weren't happy with our infidel uncovering.
I experienced a little bit of Saudi logic whilst trying to flee the dreaded place. We had to exit out of the same door we came in, past the cloak room. But there was no one stopping the incoming floods of traffic (seriously people, are you flocking here for real?), causing the entrance room to get more and more full. After about ten minutes we realised that the only way to get out would be to push for our lives, the thought of dying a slow and miserable death inside Bushra spurring us on.

The following weekend I went to a far better mixed Mall called Granada. There were shops like New Look, H and M and Topshop, but looking for work clothes proved rather futile as they stocked the same clothes they do in the west. What's the point, I ask you, in trying to sell tank tops and mini skirts and other things that no one is allowed to wear? Very strange.
Our shopping was interrupted twice by Salah (prayer time), during which the shops shut and everyone was booted out. We went up to the food court to quickly try and buy something to keep us occupied for the half an hour before we could resume our shopping.
The food court was absolutely heaving with people who clearly had the same idea as us. But my question is this: if you are all here, then what are all the shops bothering to shut for. Are you not supposed to be praying?

I have become accustomed to the call to prayer that blasts out from the Mosque loudspeakers five times a day. It can be strangely beautiful and eerie, apart from of course at 4.30 in the morning when it is just plain annoying.

A song that is in my head a lot at the moment. I wonder why....

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