Hidden Encounters With Saudi Women

by Patricia McGregor

Even in our black abayas and scarves it’s obvious that we’re foreigners. Saudi women rarely venture on to the streets. This is a man’s world. I know the women are somewhere and I’m determined to make contact.

photo by Dave G. HouserWe travel in a full- size tour bus; an escort of police cars, with flashing lights, and secret security men, with big guns, drive ahead of and behind us. No one can miss us.

This works to my advantage. Not being allowed to drive, women stare out of their car windows. We make eye contact.

As my face isn’t covered, it’s easy for them to see my smile. All I can see are their eyes smiling back at me. Some women even return my subtle wave. One lifts up the corner of her veil to get a better look.

Thank goodness for malls and washrooms. It’s there that I get my chance. Curious about me, the women initiate conversations as they touch up their makeup. Why I am here, school, their great shoes, my beaded abaya, Canada. We laugh. I have a brief encounter with woman after woman. As a new grandmother, I admire their babies and show pictures of Claire. We smile and a bond forms in spite of the language barrier.

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