Sandstorms and My Ancestors

These past two weeks Riyadh has seen on and off sandstorms. When it’s really bad it kind of looks like a yellowish brown blizzard. People with asthma and allergies are confined to their houses and it’s not strange to see some people walking around with surgical masks on. No matter what you do, the sand gets in and settles on everything. My husband even got those adhesive strips that you can stick to the bottom and sides of doors, and still I can smell a grainy sandy smell inside the house. What really helped was getting a humidifier.

I don’t mind the sandstorms as much as other people do. It makes me wonder about my ancestors. And why people dress the way they do. The red and white cloths Saudi men wear now only to preserve tradition, served a true practical purpose in the past. In sandstorms they would wrap the cloth around their mouth and nose and the black band on the forehead prevented the headdress from flying away into the wind. And women did not wear abayas back then. They wore long dresses that did not define their waists and some of these dresses had sleeves that hang down so very low so that they can use the extra cloth for modesty if an unrelated man comes in. They also would have big square light cloths of different colors on hand for when they need to walk outside. These are what they now only use for prayer.

Later on in the late sixties and early seventies, abayas started to catch on. Women would still wear long dresses and put the abaya tent-style over their head but they would also grab the whole abaya in the two nooks of their elbows so that from the waist down you can see what she is wearing underneath. Kuwaiti, Emirati and even up in Iraq women dressed similarly. And then the mutawas were no longer responsible for unifying the different regions of Saudi Arabia so they turned their focus on to us poor women.  Just shows you how much politics influences even the smallest details of our lives.

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