The name of this blog—mannahattamamma—comes from a Walt Whitman poem, “Mannahatta.”
When I told friends about our family’s impending move to Abu Dhabi, the first question anyone asked me is whether or not I would have to “cover”. They’d say: “Will you have to …” and then wave their hands around their heads, as if to indicate a beekeeper’s helmet or a halo. It took a while to get used to my wardrobe being the subject of such large-scale concern.
The other day I was asked to talk to an American freelance reporter who was working on an article about travel tips for women visiting the Emirates. I agreed, in part because I remembered my first morning in Abu Dhabi, when I had to find a cab and get to an early-morning school tour. In my jet-lagged haze, I wandered out to the street, not sure where I was going or whether a taxi would stop for me.
The image of the veiled woman remains a potent symbol of the “mysterious” Middle East and the question of “do you have to cover…” is almost always the first question that anyone asks me when I tell them where I live. It’s easy, particularly in the West, to lose sight of the fact that behind the veil is a person, and to keep in mind that gender politics are complicated here — but then again, point me to a place where gender politics aren’t complicated.
Yesterday in the U.S. it was the 4th of July: fireworks, parades, flags waving around, all in celebration of those unlikely rebels who picked a fight about taxes and ended up with a country. The 4th in Abu Dhabi was ….Wednesday. But thinking about all those Americans celebrating Independence Day reminded me of a conversation I had a month ago with an actual freedom fighter.