LIVING outside Saudi Arabia and only visiting twice a year, now that I am studying in the United Kingdom, I adapt and get used to many different things.
One of those new experiences is leaving my flat each day not wearing an abaya. Now that I have lived in Newcastle for more than a year, the thought of putting on the abaya rarely occurs to me. And when I pack my bags to visit my family in Madina and Jeddah I have to post a note on the mirror of my dresser telling me to pack it.
I made the mistake when I left for the UK in September 2007 to give away all my lovely abayas. I kept one for my visits, but when my maid saw it once she asked me if she could use it as a cleaning rag. Not being a dummy I took that to mean I should buy a new one.
So out to the store I went with my SR700 in my purse looking for something fashionable and to keep with my newly acquired social status as Dr. Jawhar in the making. After all, if I am going to earn a doctorate degree and become indispensable to Saudi Arabia then I must dress the part. But, oh, how sadly I was mistaken.
How sadly I am out of date. Imagine the humiliation when the salesman knew more about abaya styles than I. Imagine him telling me what the girls are wearing today. I felt like an old lady who hasn’t left the house in decade.And imagine, if you will, the shock I felt when I saw the price tags.
I can almost see the salesman smirking at me with my little SR700 clutched in my sweaty little hand.I discovered, not from my sisters, my nieces or even my mother, but from Mr. Sales Expert that abaya fashions have changed dramatically. Back in the olden days, say like 2005, you can have any abaya you wanted as long as it came in black.
If you were daring, perhaps a little embroidery on the sleeves. But that had to be in black as well. Now there are all sorts of glittery stuff: sequins, bits of red and blue, and clasps that looked like sapphire.And apparently those fashionable girls over in the UAE are teaching the Saudi girls a thing or two about how to wear one.
The hem drags on the ground and if you have it open to the knees, well, then you are the cat’s pajamas (a Western expression for looking cool).That’s all fine for the young girls and I want to be as fashionable as the teenager standing next to me at the Serafi Mall, but with such fashion comes a hefty price.
SR700 doesn’t do it anymore. SR1000 apparently buys me the cleaning rag my maid wants. So if I truly don’t want to embarrass myself in public with a plain grandmother-style abaya, then I must spend SR1,500 or SR2,000 to not only look respectable but not make a fool of myself.
I want to go to the mall looking my best, but I don’t want to go to the mall as poor as a basement mouse.Since I am required to wear the abaya, and you will never get any complaints from me about wearing one, the least the Saudi Government could do is subsidize the expense.
Saudis are generous by nature. They give aid to refugees. They build cultural and religious centers worldwide. They provide meaningful jobs to hundreds of thousands of Saudis. And they have sent me off to get a higher education.
The Saudi Government’s generosity can be limitless.So why not an abaya allowance? Why not chip in SR1,000 for my SR2,000 abaya. Saudis don’t want their national treasures walking around in dish rags. Don’t they want us to outshine those Emirati girls across the border? It doesn’t even have to be cash. A voucher will do? My name on a discount list at Sami’s Abaya Emporium on Tahlia Street will be just fine.