Ben’s proclivity for “culture bending” is only matched by Peta. This tendency to “go native” is something we both gravitate toward.
Indonesia is a mostly Muslim country (in fact the largest majority Muslim nation in the world, far surpassing the populations of Middle Eastern muslim populations, with 180 Million adhering to Islam).
So as Ben goes sarong, so does Peta consider the Hijab. Hijab is the Arabic word for (head) cover.
There are several styles of hijab. The Shayla, al-amira and the Khimar. The Khimar is much longer and “heavier”. This is the version that sometimes is worn with just the woman’s eyes showing. There is a current wave of near-hysteria in the west, confounding a traditional muslim head dress that is accepted as the norm in a 1.2Billion person global community of muslims, and the widespread fear in the west that is associated with terrorism. Such is this hysteria that communities in the west, France for instance, has started to prohibit the wearing of the hijab. It is a bizarre and shameful convergence of distinct topics that is so distant from day to day reality in the muslim world, that it’s laughable. Except of course that it is a serious matter and that westerners fail to recognize that their “discomfort” with the hijab is mis-placed and merely reflects a broad lack of familiarity with a global population that numbers over 1 billion people.
The traditional headscarf is worn by most women, and this type is known as a “shayla” and is a rectangular scarf that is wrapped loosely around the head attached or pinned at the shoulders.
This woman is a sex-education professional who works with the ministry of health and education. We met in a small restaurant and easily struck a conversation on our first night in Yogyakarta. She wears the full size Hijab.
Glam women, glam Shaylas…
The traditional purpose of the Islamic head cover, which we generally refer to with the broader term “hijab” is to create an attitude of modestly and attract as little attention as possible. Today however the hijab is also a fashion statement and there are many different styles and colors to choose from.
Even for women prone to wearing French high fashion, there is a Chanel hijab.
A group of women (and Ben) at the market place, gather around as they watch me being shown hijabs and dresses by one of the vendors (woman in front with orange shayla.)
Incremental transition… first the dress….
Then the hijab.. At first it feels and looks rather like a nuns “habit”.
“I like this one though. Could definitely wear this!”
Head covering is not just a cultural feature of muslim societies. Peta observes, and follows, a variant, in India’s Rajasthan region.
The sari of course, including head covering called a “ghoonghat”. Generally women use the loose end of a sari or a long scarf known as a “dupatta.”
This woman has the bright combination of colors in her sari and head covering, that are typical in Rahjistan.
When in India.. it feels more comfortable to do as Indian women do…. And it certainly is a barrier breaker.
In Myanmar women and girls (and to a lesser extent some males) use a natural paste made from the bark of a tree, as a sunblock, known as Thanaka. Thanaka is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar.
A little girl with thanaka covering her whole face. Not at all unusual. However some women create designs or just cover the cheeks.
When two girls offer to improve Peta’s looks by applying Thanaka, she readily agrees, to their delight. Thereafter, Peta gets approving nods.
This woman is so delighted to see a foreign woman wear the Thank, that she surprises Peta with a big hug!
This convergence of dress and environment is not always purposeful or conscious. In Luang Prabang, where a large population of orange-clad monks intermingle with the lay population, Peta started to subconsciously turn to the ubiquitous orange hue… No disrespect intended to the monks.
No disrespect intended, but she certainly “blends” in.
Something similarly unintended happened in Bangkok… the bejeweled Buddhist temples seemed to resonate with Peta’s pants and shirt, and vice versa.
How did this happen? Peta’s multi-colored outfit becomes camouflage at Bangkok’s gorgeous temples.
Face masks in Viet Nam (as well as in other parts of SE Asia) are a part of the culture. Primarily worn to prevent skin darkening from the sun, and to a lesser degree for pollution from motorbikes.
So normal and ubiquitous are face masks, that this woman cooking mackerel for the market, keeps her facemask on even though she is not in sun, nor in traffic.
A rural woman sweeping outside her home where bark is laid out to dry, dons her facemask.
If everyone wears a face mask, there must be a reason…. So we gotta try it too, of course.
Once you start wearing the ubiquitous face mask, you kinda miss it when you don’t wear it.