Where the Veils Come Off


I used to run.  A lot.  But the past year and a half of meeting my spouse, moving to a foreign country, getting married, merging our lifestyle patterns, moving to another country, then returning to the states for six months living in other peoples homes and moving back to a foreign country have some how managed to make a dent into my running habits.  Running outdoors here in Jordan is less than ideal, one hundred degree weather, curbs that are the height of your knees, sidewalks that are adorned with massive trees and cars in the middle of them, a culture where no one else is running and you are bringing attention to your location as a foreigner and a female all combine to discourage one from freely galloping about one’s abode.

In my search for flying space for my feet I made a cold call to a gym I had heard of.  It was a ways from our house, which then consists of me walking two blocks to the main road in the heat, then waiting for a male driven taxi cab whom I can’t communicate with, paying more money and probably fighting getting ripped off because I am obviously not Jordanian and then arriving at my workout destination.  When I called, I also discovered something I hadn’t anticipated; one day at the gym is for men, the other is for women.  This did not sound like fun for me; moving along.  I then had a nice evening out at a local hotel that is international.  Many hotels have gyms and/or pools and I had read online that sometimes the hotel allows people who are not guests to use their facilities for a fee.  So I inquired again.  250 JD per month the man responded or 50 JD a day.  What does this convert to?  About 380 U.S.Dolloars per month or around 80 USD for one day; moving along.

So one day in celebration of the completion of my mural here, Joel encouraged me to get my nails done at a local new nail salon removing the long accumulated paint in my cuticles.  The salon was located on the second floor of a building complex two blocks away from our house.  Fortunately Joel waited outside with a few of our groceries because upon ringing the exterior camera of the large wooden salon door, I discovered men were not serviced or allowed in.  I made an appointment for later that day and descended the elevator again to my love awaiting me.  He said there had been three women all in workout clothes leaving the building and that I should look into it.  I asked the front security about it and he pointed downstairs.  Joel and I were going to check it out when the security guard halted him.  Only women allowed downstairs, and so I continued my journey of discovery alone.  At the bottom of the stairs around a corner, behind a door, lie an entire workout facility, stocked with machines, weights, one classroom, a spinning room, a pool, hot tub, sauna, and steam room; women only.  The young woman behind the front desk spoke English and explained to me the set-up.  I could work out today free as long as I want and use all of the facilities.  “Oh, really?  Why thank you.”

Upon explaining it to Joel he asked, are their Muslims there?  I had to think about it for a moment.  Joel and I live in a so-I-had-thought largely international neighborhood so I was a reasonable question.  We normally distinguish religions by female head coverings here, although this is not always the case.  Apparently higher-end, further education Muslim women occasionally–at least here in Jordan–choose not to wear a head covering.  And so I returned later that day to the gym with my Fiji pink nails and when I looked all around, I saw no one looked international–not one.  Only I looked like the foreigner and you can sometimes distinguish easily, even whether or not locals have lived abroad for some indefinite period of time.

It’s the subtle things really.  How a pony tail hangs, what hair accessories are worn, how clothing is worn, how make-up is applied, how non-verbals are carried on the body, little things.  I was the only foreigner in sight and I LOVED it.  That is except for the three ceiling to floor wallpaper choices of European light-skinned women in trendy work out gear.  As I ran on the treadmill, a full view of the classroom behind glass was before me.  I had seen on the schedule an ‘oriental dance’ class was going to begin soon.  I anticipated this to be come time of Ti-chi or something.  These beautiful women that desire fitness began to gather and wrap these shimmy things around their waist and the obvious female instructor took her place and then to loud Arabic music began in a form of belly-dance aerobics.  As time passed on my treadmill I began to again, notice little things: most women were wearing a regular bra or some were wearing normal clothing, vs the exercise culture that has been established in the U.S. over the last thirty years.  A woman next to me on the treadmill even adorned a full body swimsuit as workout attire with shorts covering, as she attempted to try a treadmill for the first time pushing hard against the tread with her feet in efforts to make the machine go faster.

Some of the woman in the class I could see taking place in front of me had a difficult time replicating the steps displayed before them and then I wondered, “how many opportunities had these women been given as children, to dance, play sports, or be physically fit?”  And as time went on I noticed that many of the woman who were leaving the locker room and exiting the facilities, were veiled.  All my wondering of the proper, reserved, women I have never ever seen behind their veils in any circumstances were now here displayed before me all veil-less, with sweat dripping down their foreheads, ponytails sagging behind their concentrating minds as they shook the jangling metal pieces that accented he attempted movement of their hips.  For some reason, I had thought that they had been veiled from me a non-Muslim, when in reality they had only been veiled from men.  And so I somehow felt a part of a world I have never felt a part of; the place behind the veil.  Mother, daughters, sisters, and women all allocating their resources of time and money to take care of themselves and invest in their health.  And so I have once again began to run, and now I am running alongside my beloved neighbors, two blocks away from my front door, woman I have never spoken with, woman I am already proud of, woman who are worth their health.  And so I run.



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