Monday, August 1, 2011
Laura of Arabia: Part I
Out of the blue, a call from Amman. "Laura," the call said, "Could you come to Jordan to speak at a USAID conference on tourism development next week?" Weary from the heat wave that was swamping Washington, DC, I decided a trip to the desert was just what I needed to cool off.
In a series of upcoming posts, I will share my adventures, my discoveries, and insights garnered from my first trip to the Middle East. However, in this post, I will discuss my panic as I perused my summer wardrobe and perceived that everything I owned was either too short, too tight or too sleeveless for an Islamic country. Did I have any garb to wear? Would I be kicked out of the country for dressing inappropriately? It was a clothing cliffhanger.
Now, I am not a slut, mind you, nor do I play one on TV (as you can see from previous blog posts). But all my hemlines seemed unseamly, and my business dresses, thanks to Spanx, were quite form-fitting. And, just like Right Said Fred, with low-cut collars and keyholes, I was too sexy for my shirts. And so, with only three days to go before the trip (and with a 30-minute presentation to write about tourism development in a country I knew nothing about), I had to squeeze in a manic shopping spree.
I had been through this exercise before, prior to a trip to Morocco in 2001. And just like a decade before, I found shopping an exercise in frustration. You see, I am a Size 2. Not a lot of people in Washington are Size 2. So, choices were going to be limited.
I was simply petra-fied of finding nothing apropo for Jordan. And as I zipped from store to store, my fears were being confirmed. Lord & Taylor--oh God, nothing. T.J. Maxx--initially, it seemed promising. But a suitcase and a Calvin Klein knee-length (but sleeveless) frock were all-ah got. My patience was hanging by a thread until Filene's Basement, which became my own private Mecca. It yielded two Marc Jacobs cotton shrugs, perfect for covering the shoulders. I also found two pairs of knee-length shorts, an oversized pair of khakis, and a past-the-knee-length cotton khaki dress with short sleeves. It was fugly, but it was perfect for my needs and with it, I felt my Islamic ensembles were buttoned down.
But as I was packing my new suitcase the night before the journey, I discovered that the fugly khaki kimono still had its security tag attached. Ever wonder what happens when you try to pry off a security tag by hand? I'll tell you. You get green ink all over your hands and your new fugly dress.
Well, long story short, when I got to Jordan, I found that my clothing concerns were overwrought, though not for naught. While dress there is certainly more conservative than in the U.S. of A., Western women can get away with showing a bit of skin. Sleeveless was fine at night and outside the city (except in mosques and churches). Knee exposure was fine, even during the day. The piggy toe cleavage revealed by my slingbacks was kosher; all other cleavage was left to the imagination. Though my ink blot of a dress was left home, I still passed the wardrobe Rorschach test.
The moral of this yarn is that you can never judge a cover by the book. Even though most tomes said cover up, the reality of Jordan was a mythbuster. And, as I was soon to discover, there were plenty of other myths and misconceptions about the country also waiting to be uncovered.
Stay tuned for Part II of Laura of Arabia.