Designer Abayas

The other day my colleague Shadia had something dangling from her abaya.

  ‘Oh, Shadia,’ I said, ‘you’ve got something stuck to your abaya. Here, let, me take it off for you.’

  ‘No, no,’ she said, ‘it’s a designer label. It’s supposed to be there.’

It was actually a little shiny metal disc with a designer’s name engraved on it … a bit like a dog tag. It’s all the rage apparently. Soon I suppose they’ll be sticking them on those awful face masks … designer face masks.  When I told this story to a friend back home, she was a trifle confused.

‘What’s an abaya?’ she said.

Well … it’s a sort of long black cloak or gown worn by Muslim women, which is designed to hide the female figure. It should be plain and very sack-like but, in reality, all that has changed. The average UAE abaya looks extremely alluring and is elaborately embroidered around the cuffs or neck, or it is decorated with gold or silver braid or sparkling diamantes.


All of this, of course, tends to attract one’s eye to the female form the abaya purports to hide. Added to this is the fact that abayas, as worn by the younger generation, are becoming increasingly figure hugging. When they are not tightly fashioned around the wearer, they hang open to reveal the leanest of jeans or the slinkiest of low cut t-shirts.


Some young women – predominantly ‘ex-pat’ Arabs have dispensed altogether with abaya. They dilligently cover their heads whilst wiggling about provocatively in very tight denims. Surely they must understand what kind of mixed messages that is sending out to whoever sees them.

Writing in The National, Rym Ghazal makes another far more important point about abayas. It would seem they are highly flammable. So while Shadia’s abaya boasts a designer label, it carries no tag to say what it is made of and no warning to the wearer to steer clear of naked flames. Now as we enter the holy month of Ramadan, lots of Iftar meals will be served up in huge tents or marquees, some of them set up in the grounds of luxury hotels.

Ramadan tent1

I’ve had my fair share of Iftars and wedding celebrations in tents, but now – after the horrific Kuwait wedding fire – no more. They are a major fire hazard. All it takes is a spark from a cup of burning incense or a short-circuited air-conditioning unit and a selection of flammable abayas. To make matters worse the exits to the women’s tents are often closed to prevent men from walking in on the women’s partying. And this brings me on to another story. Wedding tents are not the only areas reserved exclusively for women. Many gyms are also for ‘women-only’. That being the case, you can be forgiven for getting ratty if you (female) show up at your all-women gym and find a bunch of Indian or Pakistani workmen lying about on the sofas in the club foyer. OK, so they are in their break and they are doing maintenance work on the premises, but that doesn’t mean they can ogle the women as they walk past in their work-out kit.

gym user

I brought this fact – politely – to the attention of the (male) gym receptionist.

  ‘Yes, you are right,’ he said, ‘but you see today they are working on preparations for Ramadan. That is why they are here outside the female gym.’ Seeing my evident irritation, he added, ‘If you like … if you are uncomfortable, I can lock you inside the gym … and then when you are finished you can call me on your mobile and I will come and unlock the door and let you out.’

Mmm … and what if my phone doesn’t work? And what if there’s a fire ..?


Pink Chanel bags

In the ‘Abu Dhabi diary’, an article which, presumably, appears every week in The National’s Saturday magazine, Bushra Alkaff al Hashemi writes about her airhead friend who, at the end of her first month as ‘a junior employee at a leading company,’ blows nearly a third of her pay cheque on a pink Chanel bag.


Bushra makes the point that women who work have a right to spend their hard-earned cash anyway they want. This Chanel bag lady earned 15,000 dirhams (around 2,800 Euros) ‘after a month of long hours dealing with weird supervisors and mundane tasks’ (poor soul!) and the bag cost 4,300 dirhams (about 850 Euros). Out on her country’s building sites in 45 degrees of heat, expatriate workers earn 600 dirhams a month (120 Euros).


Bushra explains in her article that ‘The custom in our region is that a man – a father, husband or brother – is always there to take care of females financially.’  When, then, do females learn the real value of money and the relationship between work and money? ‘In other countries’, says Bushra, ‘ women express themselves by wearing different colours and cuts of outfits. But when you wear an abaya, shoes and bags are the only things that can be seen. They are the only way you can say that a girl has taste and fashion sense, or maybe observe something about her personality through what she is wearing …’  That just about says it all.

Hello world!

Just when you think it’s safe to blog, it is not. The chances are that almost anything you say will offend someone somewhere.

So, instead of writing a letter from somewhere in particular, I’m writing one from … somewhere else. You may guess where that somewhere else it – I may even indicate where it is myself inadvertently or on purpose but, in essence the ‘Somewhere else’ is for you to guess and for you to get hot under the collar about if I gripe about something that you love dearly.

Yes, there’s a strong likelihood that I may grumble, but usually grumbles are more interesting to read than gushing words of admiration. You may even find that I express those delightful grumbles that you bat about in your own head but never verbalise. Let’s see.