YOU might not know exactly what they are but I bet you’ve heard of burqas, ḥijābs and niqābs. But have you ever seen a Muslim woman de-robe then pound a shit-ton of hash?
There’s a lot of talk around the place about what Muslim women wear. Burqas (usually understood to be the woman’s loose body-covering, plus the head-covering and veil) aren’t that prevalent in Oz, yet – similar to many places in Western Europe – there are all these controversies with politicians saying the veil should be banned. Last year Aussie liberal senator Corey Bernardi labeled burqas ‘un-Australian’ and called on them to be banned. In 2009 French president Nicolas Sarkozy said burqas were “not welcome” in France, “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity”. I’m not going to weigh into the debate here – I can see why some people see the veil as a symbol of the oppression of women but I also see no reason why they should be banned – people should be able to wear whatever the fuck they want as long as it doesn’t harm others.
Last week we were staying in the top-floor apartment owned by a Moroccan couple in a bustling beachside town. The woman’s husband was away and on our second night in town she asked us if we wanted to buy some booze, she knew a place where we could buy some (Islam is pretty strict on the no alcohol thing if you didn’t know). So she took us for a walk through the narrow maze of the medina (old town) to the liquor store, where she turned and shoved a 100-dirham note into my hand. She asked me to get her a bottle of wine and told me the label she usually drinks and how much it cost. She explained they didn’t serve Moroccan women inside, so I obliged. I’d bought booze for underage groms before but this woman was my first Muslim purchase. After I bought the wine and a bottle of the finest (cheapest) gin for the babe and I, I met the girls outside and we turned our attention towards getting a feed.
The babe and I were counting on going to a restaurant to slam down a cheap tajine (radical slow-cooked stew in an earthenware pot), but after a few subtle hints our Moroccan friend persuaded us to go with her to a cheap pizza restaurant – “the best in town”, she assured us. Once there we realised she was getting some eats too, ordering a pizza and a lasagna. After 20 hungry minutes the food arrived in take-away boxes and old mate grabbed a two-litre Coke on the way out of the shop. One final stop on the way back to the apartment was a convenience store, where our friend bought a pack of durries. Back at the apartment she ushered us into her apartment, on the floor below ours, “my home is your home,” she said. We realised then, all along she’d only wanted some company while her husband was away. What followed was three hours of hard drinking, laughs and an intriguing look at the life of an ordinary Moroccan woman, away from the only image I’d seen of the identical heavily-clothed women in the street – their garments, depending on how you look at them – perhaps symbols of oppression or the restriction of choice.
I’m not going to try to dissect the experience or try to explain to you what it meant. I just thought it was pretty cool to see this little Muslim woman – who looked just like hundreds of others I’d seen walking the streets of the town – take off her head-covering then proceed to smash a small pizza and a lasagna, two joints, half a pack of durries and a bottle of red wine (which she mixed with the Coke). Hardly the image of the rigidity and regime of religion. What a legend.
I’ve been in the country’s south for four days now in a surfing town which sits a few clicks from some famous pointbreaks. Have I been scoring them on the reg or have I been grovelling at a 2-foot beachie which sits in front of a cement factory and raw sewage outlet? I’ll tell ya soon and shit…