Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I don't want to seem like I care about material things

Like a social status...

But seriously. Animal Collective aside, last night I had a really sort of bizarre social experience.

The Old City is really varied: there are women going around in tight jeans and low-cut tops with their hair uncovered, women in the abaya, even women in full chador or niqab. There are men in traditional dress, men in shiny button-down shirts, men with beards, men who are clean-shaven. But there are a few constants. All women that I've seen, even if their clothes are tight, keep most of their skin covered; all men have short hair (nearly all women have long hair). Genders don't really interact on the street. You avoid eye contact; or if men or boys are staring at you (as a chick and all), you look away to avoid giving the appearance of being forward or "loose," as it were. If I need directions, I ask a woman unless a man offers, and even then I use my judgement.

I've gotten mostly used to this (obviously it's different if you're sitting at a cafe with a friend of yours), so last night was really odd. We went out to this small hotel in the New City, near the Cham Palace (biiiig hotel in the middle of town), where every night they have open mic poetry. Poetry, as I think most people know, is a huge deal in Arab culture. The experience was fascinating just on that level, but what was specifically weird about it was how gender was suddenly no longer an issue.

We were a large, almost entirely female group of foreigners, and rather than just staring from afar a good ten Arab young men came over and started chatting up a storm. The two older guys sitting near me were really nice, helped me understand some poetry a little better, and shared their bar snacks. The woman who brought us there--one of my friend Ben's housemates--was sitting there in a tank top (which already looks weird and overly naked to me) and just chatting with her male friends that she knows from going there every week. And for the first time I think an Arab guy was flirting with me. That has not happened at all--flirting is different from catcalling--and I just had no idea what to do with it. It was fine, he's a nice guy and he wasn't pushy or anything, but it was just so strange after the last week to have some guy in a smoky lounge setting just get up and buy me a beer because he wanted to.

Plus, for the first time I saw men--lots of them--with long hair, and women smoking cigarettes and wearing shorter sleeves. Obviously this was partly due to the fact that we were in the basement bar of a hotel in the New City. Some of the people there were pretty clearly higher class. But not all of them were, and I'm certain not all of them (or even most of them) were guests of the hotel. You could find a similar scene in the Old City, probably, but it would be composed of almost exclusively expats, not Arabs.

So I think what I'm trying to say is that clearly I need to explore the New City some more. It was interesting by contrast.

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