Last night, I was having a conversation with a friend, and a friend of hers that I had just met. Of course we all talked about what we did and I said I work for a tour company that specializes in the Middle East and
North Africa. My friend, who knew this, said how interesting and exciting the tours sounded. The woman I had just met exclaimed “why on earth would you ever want to go there?!?”
As you can imagine, we at Caravan-Serai, hear this a lot. To us and our clients, the region is a world of amazing sights, people who are extremely hospitable, a land with a deep history and traditions rooted in their land and environment. There are modern cities and traditional villages, an exciting variety of foods and shopping in markets as old as Moses. Invariably, though, the conversation turns to women and the requirement to cover in some of the countries.
|Me, in Iran near Yazd. This is an ice-making building!|
So here is what I said: First of all, we are visitors and we respect the cultures and traditions of the countries we visit, and I can handle wearing a scarf on my head for the short time we are there. And while some of the reasons for the requirement of the scarf or abaya are religious (women are commanded to be modest), it is also part of the culture of the region from before Islam. And there are practical reasons for the traditional dress we often associate with the
Middle East, mostly it’s protection against the elements. A scarf covering your hair and part of your face can go a long way to keeping blowing dust and sand out of your eyes, mouth and hair! If you are wearing an abaya or galabyia, it also keeps your cloths from getting dirty and gritty. There have been several times when traveling that I have found that covering up is actually helpful and more comfortable. Our American casual dress isn’t always suitable for every environment we find ourselves in!
My friends said they had never thought of it that way. This is just another reminder that when we see something that we don’t like, it can be very helpful to learn a little more about it. You might just find there is more to it than what first meets the eye.
I was also asked about the safety of traveling to the
Middle East, and I have to say, the thing that scares me the most about being there, is trying to cross the street in some of the major cities! Really, that is a hair-raising experience to try and cross the street in Cairo, Fes, , etc.!
|Members of our group talking to a group of school girls in Tehran.|
As for the rest of the discussion we had about travel, I told them of my trip to
a few years ago, and our trips coming up. Iran remains one of my favorite places to visit, and I hope to go back there again soon. With all the saber rattling going on, I know people are shocked to find we still have tours to the region at all. But once you get there, you find that the people are most welcoming. And not going means missing out on the best history lessons and cultural experiences of your life.