The women at the union braid ribbon to make dress decorations.

The women at the union braid ribbon to make dress decorations.

Today at the Emirati Union we met these women who were braiding ribbons to make decorations for the traditional dresses.  The pieces of canvas covering their mouths and eyebrows is called a burqa.  (Google image search “burqa UAE” for a more specific image.) One of our Emirati hosts offered one to me so I could try it on and I wanted to see how it felt to wear the mask.  So she helped me put it on my face after conquering the obstacles of my glasses andgetting my hair out of the way.

I found it surprisingly unoffensive.  The part around my eyes felt no different than wearing glasses and I didn’t even notice the piece over my mouth.  But I only had it on for a minute or so and also I didn’t see my own image, which probably would have been the more surprising part of the experience.

I did, however, have many images taken against my will.  The photographer from the Women’s Union started shooting pictures as soon as it was on my head.  I asked him to stop but he insisted and I figured a few pictures would be OK, so I let him take a few.  Then I held up my hand and said, “OK that’s enough.”  He looked at his screen and said, “No,” and resumed taking pictures.  I eventually said stop very firmly and took the burqa off.  I didn’t feel I really had the chance to experience it, but I was uncomfortable with the photographer buzzing around me.

We had to sign a form on the trip releasing our image to the photographers for the length of our stay.  But I didn’t realize that meant we couldn’t say no on occassion.  It was upsetting and more or less ruined the experience for me.  I feel I have to say that I did not put on the mask to show what a multi-cultural American I am.  I put it on to see if it was uncomfortable.  I feel like this is part of what makes Americans so despised around the world and I am sad to have been an involuntary part of that today.

Despite that sour note, my experience at the Women’s Union was really fulfilling and interesting.