Adventures in Alternative Style

p_20161002_180407Hello from the Fall 2016 MESP ladies!

(and gentlemen, of course. This post is just highlighting our journey as women.)

We are having a blast here in Amman this semester.

Efforts to adjust to the local culture come in different forms. Saying “Marhaba, keef halak?” instead of “Hello, how are you?” is just the beginning.

For us women, the adaptation of dress is a bigger hurdle to jump over. I for one have found the stretch surprisingly enjoyable- it’s an opportunity to be creative and thrifty.

Before coming on the semester, I hit up my local Salvation Army and Goodwill. Which is what I do on the regular anyway, but this time was different: I had specific guidelines in mind. It was more like a treasure hunt than it had ever been before.

I ended up having to stop at Kohl’s for the necessary ankle-length-with-no-slit skirt. Soon, I was on my way to Amman and cultural adjustment and adaptation.

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on the wain hada? scavenger hunt

We quickly learned that what we wear here is not just a matter of style, but of cultural respect. In the Middle East, the culture of the majority Muslim population puts an emphasis on physical appearance, and how that interacts with honor and respect.

I know, coming from an American, Christian perspective, the first concern on your mind when you get dressed in the morning is not “how do I make sure to respect others and honor my family” but “how can I fit in and not look like a freak.”

But if you think about the idea of respecting others, and even ourselves, in the way we dress, I’m leaning towards the idea that we could learn something from this value in Islamic culture.

I’ll let you work that out for yourself. For us here, it’s about making sure we show others that we have come to enter in to their world, to meet them where they are at. We want to make sure others feel respected and comfortable while we learn from them. We appreciate our hosts and don’t want to make them feel like they need to bend to our preferences.

That being said, it’s a different system than ours back home, so it takes some getting used to. After being here in Jordan for about 2 months, here are some examples of what we’ve come up with:

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As you can see, it’s about higher necklines, longer sleeves, and long pants. This can be a challenge when living in the desert, so you learn to choose thinner, lighter fabrics (which travel better anyway!) and stay inside during the hotter parts of the day when possible.

The wonderful thing is, if you arrive and realize that you may need a few more items to supplement your wardrobe, you’ve always got Souk Juma to fall back on. Otherwise known by it’s English translation (Friday market), this magical marvel of a secondhand bonanza is open every Friday and is just a short taxi ride away.

I’ve bought a few things there, and I’m not one bit ashamed of it. I’ve gotten 2 JD pants, 5 tunics for 5 JD, purple suede shoes for 4JD… guys, a deal is a deal! When you pay a buck-fifty for a shirt, you’re not going to feel bad if you can’t fit everything in your suitcase on the way home (at least, I won’t… those purple suede shoes are gonna make the cut, though).

Even if I don’t bring all the apparel home with me, I’ve enjoyed exploring this fashion that convenes with Middle Eastern cultural standards. I have a new appreciation for personal presentation, which is something we tend to neglect in the States when we “just don’t feel like it.”

We’ve already joked about how we are taken aback when we see pictures of our friends in (reasonably) short dresses and how weird it will be to wear shorts in public again. I won’t have to worry about that for a while, heading back to Michigan in December, but it’s an interesting thought. We’ve come to a point of seeing our own fellow Americans, our friends and family, and having the same gut reaction as a Muslim, at least for a second.

As we live in Amman, we learn to straddle two worlds. We come from one, work to understand the other, to function in it but not to forget our own. Welcome to the Middle East Studies Program. Ahlan wa sahlan.