|Photo from Doug K of Sky|
all rights reserved
But as I also experienced, sometimes behaving in a way that is acceptable to the culture makes the people more open to your presence. One of the things that struck me on the trip was how little I saw of the women. All along the roads you could see the men, but unless we happened to pass by a field in which the women were working I rarely saw them. From Askole we took a short walk to the village of Hushe (made famous by Greg Mortensen in his book Three Cups of Tea) and visited the school there. As we arrived the boys of the village rushed out to meet us and show us, but the girls and women were nowhere to be seen. I had picked up a local woman's outfit in Skardu (Salwar kameez) and was wearing it along with my scarf. When I tried to approach the girls they ran, so I thought that covering my head may make me less threatening and proceeded to do so. In trying to forge a connection with the children I wandered off in the opposite direction hoping they'd be intrigued and come after me - which didn't work - and heard voices from within one of the buildings calling me. When I turned and looked there were some women waving at me from the window. I waved and smiled back and a while later they came out and I was allowed to take the picture above. I believe that my willingness to cover my hair and dress in local costume made them feel safe enough to reach out and make a connection. Unfortunately I didn't manage to win-over the little girls before we had to leave.
So how should one (a woman) dress when traveling in a way more conservative environment than one's home? I'm not sure what the answer is, but in my mind it is important to be true to myself, while still taking into account the sensibilities of the people around me. I'm not sure as a western woman that I could have avoided the comments (I'm assuming there were) and looks by dressing differently (short of wearing a chador and hiding myself completely) and have had to learn to ignore the looks and stares (sometimes leers) when I travel in parts of the world where the women are usually fully covered. I asked my companion whether he thought I was reinforcing the so-called stereotypical-western-slut image or showing that it is possible for a woman to be respectfully dressed, but not fully covered. His answer was the latter, but I don't know - and after some thought, don't really care as I feel I need to do what I feel comfortable with.
What are your thoughts on this topic? Leave your them in the comment section below.