Thursday, June 18, 2015

Respect, Bikinis & Hijabs, and Fasting

Probably, even on a very hot summer day, wearing my bikini down the streets of most of the western cities I've lived in would draw some stares, maybe some rude comments and as awesome as I think I look in a bikini ;) I would definitely feel uncomfortable. Well I think not wearing my hijab could almost be compared to wearing a bikini in the middle of a city. While it's a lot more comfortable to not keep my head covered and personally I don't find my (infrequently washed) hair too offensive, in this setting it is. In regards to my last post I have to remind myself that religion aside, homogeneity makes differences difficult to accept or understand. My suspicion is this is more the reason for everyone dressing the same and not really tolerating someone dressing differently. Somaliland (and Somalia) is extremely ethnically, religiously, and linguistically homogenous coupled with extremely low literacy rates (43%!) and a general lack of contact with the outside world. So while feeling a bit forced to dress like people here, I am also trying to understand where people are coming from.

Officially two weeks into my stay here and I have to confess it is definitely the hardest place I've lived so far and is stretching the limits of my adaptability. Which I'm happy about. A part of me is envious of people enjoying Northern Hemisphere summer BBQs, long days, summer dresses, swimming, and cold beers but I'm also thrilled to accept the challenge of living in this hard place for four months and be doing work that I truly invigorates me. Energy poverty is so severe here and sometimes I get a shiver down my spine in excitement that maybe my work is actually helping. So I've decided to treat this experience a bit like I did my marathon training. Lots of people thought I was crazy to do a marathon. It's not necessary to be fit, takes up a lot of time, and is just plain hard and painful. But it was a challenge, an obstacle to overcome and a growing process to commit to something that was difficult. Although this last year has been super frustrating and uncertain and if I could go back I might have made different decisions, it feels so satisfying to finally be getting my hands dirty, helping make an impact, and just being busy, even if I'm broke and getting paid almost nothing.

So although Somaliland is a difficult place to live as a women, there are lots of things I love (and some I hate). I love:

  • That I can get away with washing my hair once a week. Since water is brought in with a truck and is expensive I feel washing my hair infrequently is further justified. Plus I've always read that overwashing stimulates oil production so it's really a triple win. 
  • How cheap things are here. I can get a cup of coffee for 30 cents and nice meal plus fresh juice for $3-4. 
  • How respected I feel. I know this sounds counter-intuitive but it's a semi myth I want to dispel about Muslims. I really believe that all religions at some point or currently have been abused to put down women and promote a patriarchal society and certainly "respect of women" is viewed a bit differently than how I would define it in the west. But from what I've heard rape is relatively rare here and on a personal level all my male colleagues really, really value my ideas and opinions. They are always treating me kindly and making sure I am taken care of (sometimes difficult to handle since I'm overly independent haha). Also, Somaliland has a very high number of women in government. Women can drive and more and more women are getting educated. So while it's not perfect and I could also tell some negative stories, I don't think it's fair to say that Islam is a religion that puts down women or all Muslim countries do not respect women. There is also a generation gap in many countries due to the increasingly more conservative interpretations of the religion. 
  • The constant sunshine. While this means that mid day can get a bit hot (low to mid 30s C, high 80s-low 90s F) especially wearing so many layers it makes me happy to wake up to the sun every day. 
  • How relaxed and friendly people are. I've never quite been able to explain how significantly less stressed I feel in African work environments although perhaps they are less efficient and less gets done at the end of the day. But I think the combination of how people are prioritized here, the nice weather, and the flexibility of time makes even working long, long days less stressful. 
  • 24 hour internet. One of the (few) perks of living in the same house as my office is that I have 24/7 internet access and it's pretty fast too! This is a first for me outside of the west. 
  • Not getting cat calls on my runs. I've sadly only run twice so far here and running means wearing long pants and small scarf, then putting on a bag dress (as I call the dresses here) and hijab to walk down the road to a hotel compound to run laps. Then taking off some of the layers and running around the hotel. Thankfully, no one stares or makes comments or tries to run with me like in other African countries. Which is a huge pleasure! :) 
  • My colleagues. It's so exciting to work with people so passionate about making a difference their country. 
So while I am sure I will be happy to move somewhere else at the end of my four months, there are lots of small things I appreciate and I'm grateful to have this opportunity to live in such an unknown place with so much room to make a difference in the energy sector. 
Organic yogurt made in Hargeisa! Another thing I love. Although now I have no fridge...

Finally, in reference to the fasting part of the title. Ramadan officially started today and as another challenge and sign of respect I am attempting to mostly participate in the fasting. This means no eating or drinking during daylight hours. As I discovered perhaps I am lucky to be living here during Ramadan rather than the Netherlands that gets something like 20 hours of daylight in summer! For any of you who know me well, I generally function best eating every 2-3 hours and I am certainly not trying to lose weight. So this next month is definitely going to be challenging!

No comments:

Post a Comment