A Deserted Beach
Version for “Tales of the Veils” website.
Not for reproduction on other websites or in any other publishing format without author’s permission.
In the late autumn morning sun it won’t be intolerable to walk out past the cape, Sally thinks. If she gets too hot, she can always just walk out into the Gulf. At the long completely deserted stretches of sand in this part of the Persian Gulf the water depth increases only slowly out from the beach. An adult will have to go 15-20 meters out before it reached the neck and it is absoloutely nessecary to swim. And the water is calm on 9 out of 10 days. It is an ideal place for children. If they can swim a little and snorkle, there is a large diversity of fish and other things to look at. And here in November the water is nearly 25 degrees. Sally is a good swimmer, but because of that she knows that you never swim and especially never dive alone. The small beach house only an hours drive from the city belongs to the company her husband is working for. After spending a month in the souks and seeing the few tourist attractions of the small Emirate Sally is glad she can spend some time on her own, while her husband works. And then they can spend some fantastic evenings together. Completely alone on the border between the sea and the desert they swim in the moonshine, or just sit on the porch opposite the sea and watch the stars and dream they live a Bedouin life alone in the desert tens of kilometers from other humans.
Sally has reached the tip of the cape. She now has a fine view of the next bay, another strip of sand reaching perhaps a kilometre before the next rocky cape blocks a further view. As she looks back along the waterline from the next cape her dreams about being a lonely Bedouin are shattered. At the bottom of the bay, 500 metres in front of her, children are playing at the edge of the water. Sally can see four children in the range five to perhaps ten years. The oldest seems to be a girl but apart from that it is hard to judge at this distance. With children that small there has to be some adults as well. Sally haven’t expected to meet anyone. It isn’t far from the city and almost any part of the beach is easily accesible with a four-wheel-drive, but it is a traditional arab society and sunbathing, swimming, diving or playing on the beach is not what Sally would expect they do in their leisure time. As she has decided to walk in a thin long sleeved cotton dress over her bikini, mostly to avoid sun burn, she thinks she is dressed sufficiently modest for a foreigner, to be able to pass some locals without getting nasty stares, so she continues towards the children. Her curiosity overrides her concerns about being too scantily dressed.
The children are making holes in the sand and digging small channels, which let the sea flow into the holes. A boy of about eight sees her, when she is three hundred metres away. He says something, which make the old girl of perhaps ten rise and turn towards her. After looking for a little while, she turns towards land and shouts something. Sally expects an adult to appear soon. Behind the ten metre wide stretch of sand low rocks are the end of a small mountain range behind. Less than a minute after the girl has shouted a veiled figure appears between the rocks. She is completely dressed in black showing only bare feet, hands and eyes. First she says a few words in Arabic, but Sally just shakes her head saying “I’m English.” Then the veiled woman says “I’m sorry to tell you Mrs. but you have entered a private beach.” Sally says “Private! I thought I was in the middle of the desert, which belongs to no one.” The veiled woman says “Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan has got the land from this bay up and beyond the Al Yun oasis with the holiday house as a gift from our ruler, the Emir. One must have a permission to walk or hunt here.” While talking the oldest boy and girl has stopped playing and now stand beside the veiled woman listening, while the two small children keep playing. Sally says “I can of course go back, if I’m not allowed to be here, but I am just out on a walk from the beach house two kilometres down the coast, which my husband and I borrow from the company he works for. I just continued down here from the cape, because children playing in what I thought was an uninhabited place made me very curious.” The veiled woman says “For the time being my master Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan live at the house in the oasis with his family. I am the maid accompanying the children and two wives down here for the children to play. Are you alone?” Sally says “Yes my husband is working in the city everyday from eight to five. I’m alone here during the day except weekends.” The maid is hesitating about what to say or do next, when a small bell is heard. The children hear it too Sally can see, as their heads shortly turn towards the rocks. Then the maid says “I am asked for. Please wait here.” After a long minute the maid is back saying “The wives of Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan ask if you would join them for a cup of tea?” Sally of course is delighted and immediately follows the maid, while the children stay. They just walk five metres in behind the first rock, where there is a small open shack making an area of shadow of perhaps ten square metres. In there two women dressed in colorful wide trousers and matching long sleeved dresses are sitting. It seems to Sally they have both just been covered in some black clothes now lying on each side of them, but now only their heads and feet are covered in black. Two pairs of beatiful Arab eyes are studying Sally, while she looks at them. They both rise and greet her by in turn embracing her. Then they sit down again and the woman, who embraced her first, gestures her to sit down as well. After a minute in silence, where the main sound source is the gas heater the maid has started to make tea, it seems the leading woman has made a decision and removes the black scarf covering the face below her eyes. As soon as she does that the other woman follows. The beautiful Arab eyes are now part of beatiful young arab faces, showing both women are 20 perhaps 22 years old. It is now revealed why they have a bell to attract attention, because both have their mouth forced open by a ball gag held in place by a thin leather strap on top of the head scarf. Sally is a little disturbed by the unusual sight, but doesn’t have to take action, because the leading wife has taken a block of paper with some Arabic writing and now turns to a blank page, where she writes something. Sally reading upside down is only able to see she is writing English. After a short while the woman hands her the block to read:
I’m Suha, second wife of Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan. Next to me is Malika, third wife. We have both heard your conversation with Faiza, our maid. We both speak English.
Sally hands the block back to Suha and says “I’m Sally Owen, married to Peter. Thank you for inviting me. You have some lovely children, but both of you seem too young to have carried all of them.” Suha is writing:
You’re right. I am 24, mother of the young girl, Huda of 5, and Malika is 23 and mother of Ahmed of 5. The first wife, Jamilah, is the mother of the two older children.
Now the maid, Faiza, pours four glases of tea. She is still veiled as on the beach. While the hot glases cool a little, the two wives unbuckle their gag and puts it in their lab. They all start drinking, Faiza by lifting the bottom of her veil with one hand and the glass with the other. After taking some sips Sally says “A very fine tea. It’s nice to have something to drink after walking in the sun. But may I ask why you were gagged?” Suha moves the block over to Malika, who places her glass on the sand and starts writing:
Outside women’s quarters it is our custom that women are completely covered and silent. Here we can only be seen from a few meters away and can cover in seconds in case of a foreign noise, but our voices may be heard further away. The gag prevents accidental sounds.
Suha interrupts and adds to Malika’s writing:
But to be honest if our husband was here, we haven’t removed our veils. And if our mother-in-law was here, we would be completely covered in black.
Sally says “I might have guessed this beach trip is to get a little freedom and time on your own.” Malika takes the block and writes:
Our behaviour have indicated that, I’m afraid. But both our husband and mother-in-law are in the city today. We are here to be close to our children.
Sally says “Then why don’t you cover a little more and play with the children in the low water. I’ve seen many covered women walking out in the water and even swimming fully dressed. In the hot sun here the clothes dries in a few minutes afterwards.”
None of us have really learned to swim. If we go out where adults are fully soaked the children would follow and might be in danger. We need a life guard.
Sally says “I’m a trained swimmer and has passed a life guard test. I haven’t actually worked as a life guard, but in this water I don’t think there are problems. I would like to go in the water myself and would appreciate if you just watch me from the beach. It is right to be careful, and you should never swim alone.”
Suha now quickly gags herself again and puts on her veil. Then she rises and in her stockings walks towards the beach. Malika is right behind her followed by Sally and a little later the maid. All the adults coming make the children stop their playing and turn to see what will happen. Suha walks past them directly out into the water not stopping until it reaches her waist. Malika follows, while Suha lets herself fall back, until she is floating on her back. After floating for half a minute she turns around and makes a few primitive breast strokes. Then she suddenly stops and puts her feet to the bottom and her hands to her face. The face veil is pulled down around the neck. Wet clothes over nose and mouth makes it impossible to breathe. Sally has taken her sneakers and dress off and is now out next to Suha and Malika. She says “I had only imagined that you would go out to your waist and walk around a little and splash each other and the children, but I see you like swimming.” Their faces show they agree. Malika falls back floating on her back again just in front of Suha. She makes some large leg movements splashing directly in the face of Suha. She falls back and starts splashing Malika, resulting in Sally getting her face sprinkled. A friendly and joyful fight has been started. Closer to the beach the children have stepped a few meters out in the water as well and are soon mimicking the adults by splashing with hands and feet. Even Faiza is out in water to her knees closely watching the small children. Sally, who wants the children to play with them, has gradually moved closer to the beach and soon Suha and Malika are surprised by getting caught in a cross fire. A total water fight has broken out. Soon Faiza’s clothes has got so much splashing it doesn’t matter that she sits down in the water. Everybody is involved. After some time Suha finds herself hit from all four children from four directions. This makes her rise in the low water and walk up on the beach. She takes the veil from her neck holding it out in both hands like a flag in the hot breeze, while she slowly turns around to let the sun dry her all over. Soon they are all slowly turning on the beach. Faiza says some words in Arabic making the children react. As Sally looks at her, she says in English “I told the children not to sit down again, as the wet clothes will collect a lot of sand.”
Suha and Malika have veiled again. Malika and Faiza look to Suha, who as the leading wife here, decides what to do. Suha points to her wrist and then to her mouth. Sally understands it is time for lunch. Suha takes Sally’s hand and walks a few steps towards the rocks while pointing to her mouth with the other hand. Sally says “Is it a picnic? Would you like me to take part in your picnic? It is very kind of you. I would be happy to.” But Suha gestures to Faiza to explain for Sally. Faiza says “It’s not a picnic. We’re driving up to the house for lunch. It’s only a ten minutes drive.” Sally says “It’s very nice of you. But I don’t think my dress is appropriate outside the beach. I only wear bikini and a nearly see-through dress that barely covers my knees.” Faiza looks at Suha, who nods. Then Faiza says “We always bring extra clothes. The wives of a sheik must always be able to handle a situation where the clothes gets torn, stained or wet.” Then Sally says “Then I must accept your invitation. If it is your clothes, I’m sure I will be properly dressed.” Now they walk up to the shack again, where Faiza starts packing what they brought, while Suha and Malika starts dressing. Sally is just an astonished spectator, while the two heaps of black clothes disappear from the sand and make the two wives disappear. First a pair of black gloves cover their hands and forearms, next a long black hooded abaya with sleeves covers their colourful dresses and just leaves their faces veiled below the eyes to be seen. The sight is short, because they next put on a niqab with eye veils tied with a wide head band around the top of the head. Finally the arms and nearly everything else is covered by a full length closed khimar held in place with an internal head band. The khimar is a featureless piece of cloth touching the ground all way round with a face opening only showing the black cloth surface of the niqab, and with two slits, if the arms must be used. As they are accompanied by a maid Suha and Malika do not use the slits. Seeing them fully dressed Sally understands why they call the shack a women’s quarter, where they allow themselves to cover less. She wouldn’t like spending a couple of hours in more than thirty degrees dressed like that. Compared to them she is naked and even then longed for cooling in the water.
Faiza is ready to leave. Sally offers to carry some boxes, which makes it possible to take everything with them at once. Faiza starts walking up a small path between the rocks with the two youngest children following her. Then the two oldest children each leads a totally shrouded wife carefully after them. As Sally expected the niqab make them nearly blind. It’s a short walk. In five minutes the path has taken them up on a plateau of rocky ground, where the four-wheel-drive car is parked.
Faiza takes a bag out from the rear door of the car, before she puts in their belongings. Meanwhile Suha and Malika have been seated on the wide passenger front seat. Faiza opens the bag which contains black clothes. First she finds a pair of pantyhose, which Sally puts on after shortly removing her sneakers. Then a black head scarf and a face veil make her look much like the wives before they started dressing for going home. Her own dress is thin, short and cheap compared to theirs, but it doesn’t matter much, as it will be covered shortly. She is of course not gagged either, which makes Faiza say “Please remember not to talk, until one of us starts talking, and if someone else appears do not talk unless directly addressed.” Sally says noticing her voice is a little muffled by the veil “Thank you for the advice. Of course I don’t want to offend anyone, and will try to follow your customs.” After putting on gloves, abaya and niqab, there is nothing of the Sally of this morning to be seen. She immediately observes, she is just able to see Faiza and the car beside her. The ground is a black surface and the sun looks like a weak light bulb. She would like to see herself. It’s a three layer niqab and she just flips all layers back to get her sight back. Then she steps in front of a side view mirror and looks. One by one she flips the layers down, but already at the first layer she is not able to see her own eyes in the mirror image. They probably have a full length mirror in the house, where she can get a better look at herself before taking the dress off. She turns to Faiza waiting behind her with the khimar and flips all the layers down. She is unaccustomed in handling this big piece of cloth and even with Faiza helping it takes considerable time, before she has got it placed correctly, and gets the head band tied. The effort immediately makes her realize, how hot it is to wear layers of black in a desert. Faiza guides her into the back seat, where all the children are, and she closes the door. Sally immediately starts feeling better in the air-conditioned environment. Then Faiza takes the driver seat, and a short drive up a nearly invisible trail is over nearly before Sally is able to think about anything else but clothes.
To Sally and the wives not only the trail is invisible, but everything else. They can’t see they enter a yard on a small plateu on the edge of a small ridge in the desert. Behind the yard is a palm grove. Inside the yard is a large typically arab one storey house with a flat roof, and with a much smaller similar house next to it. Faiza guides Sally, as they all go to the women’s section of the house. Inside Faiza says “Only Jamilah is here. You may undress and speak.” Sally takes the khimar off and flips the eye veils back looking at her surroundings. It’s a large arab living room with lots of carpets and cushions, low tables and heavy sofas. And at the other end there is no roof in the center, where a small fountain is surrounded by flowers and green plants. The entire room is a cross between a yard and a living room. A few meters to the right of Sally sitting on a cushion reading a magazine is the first wife Jamilah. Hearing Faiza speak in English and seeing an unknown woman, she rises and embraces Sally saying “I’m Jamilah, first wife of Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan. As my co-wives has invited you, you are my guest as well.”
Sally says “I’m Sally Ow..”. Then she realize that her voice is too muffled with the layers of fabric over her mouth. She lifts the lower half of her niqab and repeats “I’m Sally Owen from Birmingham, England. Currently living in the house a few kilometers up the beach. Excuse me for keep being veiled, but I would like to see myself dressed like this in a mirror before I take it off. It is your clothes, which I borrowed from your car.” Jamilah says “A stranger has walked on our beach. It has never happened before. And as you are a woman, I understand Suha and Malika could not resist start communicating with you. I could use a brush up of my English as well. But follow me to undress in the dressing room with a mirror.”
They walk around the fountain to a number of doors at the far end and enter the leftmost. Inside are among other items large closets, a makeup table and a full length mirror. Suha is on her way out in a new dress and Malika is at the table refreshing her makeup and in a new dress as well. Sally looks in the mirror and flips the first eye veil down again. Her surroundings are a little darker, but she sees everything without problems. In the mirror she is just able to see that the niqab is not a plain black surface, but there is an eye slit. Then she flips down the second layer. Now the very dark mirror image looks like a completely uniform surface. And the room looks like if it was lit by candles. With the last layer down she is not able to see an image in the mirror. She can only just make out its frame. The room is nearly complete darkness. She can just see Jamilah is standing behind her, and she is not sure if Malika is still on the chair less than five meters away. She unties the niqab and following removes the veil, gloves and abaya.
She immediately notice her thin beach dress and says “I’m sorry to have such an inappropriate dress in company with decent and beatifully dressed people. But I wasn’t expecting a lunch invitation, when I left my house. Perhaps I should borrow the abaya for a little longer, like I like to keep the head scarf and the pantyhose on.” Jamilah says “No we’re only young people for lunch, if you exclude me at 33. We do not wear abaya among ourselves and you are used to uncovered women. Like many Englishmen you have a reddish skin colour, for which I think a green dress would be nice.” She opens a closet showing dozens of dresses and takes out a slightly dark green dress with a little gold embroidery at the edges. Then she says “You can change and fresh up in the bathroom next door. Afterwards just go back past the fountain.” Ten minutes later Sally is back with the others after spending a minute in the dressing room looking at herself in full figure in the beatiful dress.
A lovely lunch is ready on the low tables. But Sally has to wait a little while, as they are all doing their noon prayer. They sit on cushions on the floor and eat with their hands, which is no problem with the dishes served. Faiza and the children sit around one end of the table and Sally and the three wives around the other. Faiza is still wearing abaya and veil and is lifting her veil each time she puts something in her mouth. After they have told Jamilah about what happened she says “If I were there you haven’t unveiled, at least not inside the shack. You’re able to take your gag off and drink just by lifting the veil. As I understand it Faiza has not unveiled, not even in the water, but perhaps she didn’t try to swim. I won’t tell our husband or mother-in-law, but next time, where I would like to participate, someone must keep outlook on the beach or in front of the shack, if you want to unveil. I know Sally is the first stranger to enter our private beach, but nobody knows it’s private. Nobody comes there only because it is far away from everything else.”
While eating and listening to the voices of Suha and Malika for the first time, Sally has noticed that the three wives have their scarf veils hanging around the neck. She asks “I see you’re wearing your veils around your neck. Does this mean you veil in here?” Suha answers “We have a very strict hierachy in our society. In a family the men are of course above the women, but also an older generation is above a younger and we wives must obey according to duration of marriage. I must obey Jamilah, and Malika must obey both of us. If Jamilah wants to talk with you alone, she can order us to remain silent, to gag or to leave without having to justify it. Likewise we all have to obey our mother-in-law and of course our father-in-law and our husband. If our husband or an older generation female like our mother-in-law enters the room, we show our respect and transfer the authority to one of them by veiling and not speak until allowed by the new authority.” Malika adds “As you have seen from our outdoor dress, we beleive women should not display their beauty unnecessarily. Our husband and mother-in-law accepts the way we’re dressed now, when they are not present, but it is not unusual that they demand full covering and silence. Young women are not to be seen or heard, but must be present to serve and learn.”
Sally says “As a not so young woman of 26, does that mean I have to obey Jamilah and everybody above her?”
Jamilah says “It’s a very complicated question, if you were an arab family member. But as a guest you’re on top of the hierachy only below males. But as you are further a non-muslim foreigner, you are regarded equal to our husband because Westerners at least say they regard men and women as equal. In other words: You will not be forced do anything, while our guest.”
Sally says “Thank you. And now please all lie down facing the floor!” Sally has decided for a little joke to test her newly learned power. They all, including Faiza and the children, who copy the adults, turn away from the table and stretch out on the carpets with their hands folded between the forehead and the floor. Sally is surprised. She quickly says “Please rise. I’m sorry. I was just joking.” Jamilah says “I’m sure you was joking. But every order must be obeyed. Joke or not. So please don’t ask us to cut our throats.”
The conversation continues for long about differences between east and west, clothes and many other things, until there is a knocking on the door. All conversation immediately stops and the three wives pull their veil up to the eyes. After a little while a typically Arab man in his late thirties, typically dressed in a white thobe and a white ghutra with a black head band guides a completely covered woman inside. Sally has immediately guessed it is the sheik and his mother, who have returned from the city. After lifting at his mother’s khimar to signal she may unveil, he turns to Sally, put his right arm forward to shake hands and says in English “I am Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan. Who have I the honour to have as guest in my house?” Sally shakes his hand and says “I’m Sally Owen, temporarily resident of the house along the beach to the east. I met your family, while taking a morning walk along the beach.” The sheik says “Are you alone out here?” Sally says “In the daytime yes. My husband works for the company, which owns the house. And this reminds me I must be getting back, so I’m there, when he get’s back at five.” The sheik says “If you have been with my wives since morning, you must be getting along well. And as you are only you two in the beach house, I’m sure no one is waiting with dinner. Why don’t you stay for dinner as well. Then I can call your husband and invite him to dine with me and my father. I would like to hear what a foreigner working here thinks about our country.” Sally says “It’s very kind of you. The frozen meal I should have served is just as good tomorrow. If my husband accepts I will gladly stay.” The sheik gets the number and leaves to phone.
Meanwhile the mother-in-law has returned after unveiling and perhaps changing. She is dressed in a black abaya, black gloves and black headscarf, but her face is uncovered. As the sheik leaves Sally turns towards her. The mother-in-law puts her right hand to her chest and bows saying something in Arabic, while Sally greets her likewise. Then the mother-in-law says a few words turned to Faiza. Faiza then says in English “She says her name is Aysha. She is mother of Sheik Rashid bin Hamdan. She is happy to welcome the foreign guest in her house, and understands she has accepted to stay for dinner.” Sally knows this means she can’t reject the dinner invitation. She just hopes her husband isn’t too tired to accept. But he likes arab culture, and won’t unless he feels sick. So Sally says “Tell her my name and how I got here, if she hasn’t been told already. Then say I’m hournered to be visiting her house and feels real good in the fine clothes I have borrowed.” After hearing the translation Aysha smiles to Sally. Then she turns her head towards the wives, who submissively have followed the conversation, shouting in Arabic. The wives immediately leaves and Faiza translates “You mentioning the clothes reminded her they are not properly covered in her presence.”
Now the sheik returns saying “I had an enjoyable conversation with your husband, who would gladly come. Of course this means I can’t dine with you, but I’m sure my wives and my mother-in-law understand to entertain you. So this is goodbye for this evening, except perhaps for a short encounter when you leave. I should give regards from your husband. He said he doesn’t need to see you, when he arrives, so you women can enjoy each other’s company undisturbed, until your husband decides to leave.” Sally says “Men and women seperated is the Arab way, which is fine with me. But would you explain one thing before you leave. Why did you address me directly in English as soon as you entered the room?” The sheik says “Men are wiser. No. First your skin colour reveal you’re not Arab. Second an arab woman would have been covering as much as she could and turned away. But third and most important: Faiza received me and told who were in here.” The sheik leaves.
While Sally and the sheik have been talking the wives have returned. They are now dressed in an abaya with sleeves and wear gloves like their mother-in-law, but further they wear a niqab with eye cover. They show no skin or colours, but Sally sees their eyes quite clearly. There is only one thin layer covering the eyes. But Sally has a problem. They look identical. She wants to address Jamilah as first wife, but can’t identify her. They all sit on cushions Sally and Aysha facing each other a few meters apart and the three wives on a line between them to Sally’s right, while Faiza sits to Aysha’s right. Sally chooses to talk looking at the wife in the middle saying “Jamilah, I’m the same generation as you are. Is it inappropriate to ask to be dressed like you?” No one says anything for perhaps ten seconds. Then Aysha exchange some words with Faiza in Arabic, while Sally realizes Aysha has not allowed the wives to speak. Faiza says “Aysha finds it admirable that you want to follow our dress code. She will allow it on the condition that you accept a small punishment for adressing someone not allowed to speak.” Sally, who now thinks of herself as a kind of fourth wife, wants to follow their customs and does not answer, but rises and bows to Aysha. Aysha says something to Faiza, who gets up and gestures Sally to follow her. They go to the dressing room, where Sally gets gloves, abaya and niqab similar to the wives. While dressing Sally asks “Is there a reason Aysha use you as translator?” Faiza says “The wives will try to take as much power as possible. Aysha is afraid they will take advantage of their superiority in English. They could make a twisted translation, saying you were in favor of their opinion opposed to hers. And as I do not talk unless asked, Aysha wouldn’t know, although I think she understands some English.” Fully dressed Sally looks in the mirror. It is a thin eye veil, as she is able to see her own eye slit in the mirror. But now Faiza lifts the lower half of Sally’s niqab saying “Please open your mouth wide. Here comes Aysha’s punishment.” A little surprised Sally complies and accepts a ball gag put into her mouth. Faiza buckles it, and the ball gag reminds her of a question she has wanted to ask Faiza, she says “Arr th wi gar.” A little sound comes out, but nothing understandable. But Faiza has guessed, what she wants to ask, saying “No the wives are not gagged. And they wear no veil under their niqab just like you, to be able to eat and drink just by lifting the niqab.” They walk back to the others.
As Sally and Faiza sit on their cushions again the wife closest to Aysha says “I’m Jamilah and has been asked by Aysha to pass the time of your punishment by telling the story of her first meeting with her husband.
“When Aysha was thirteen there were no cities around here. Most people were bedouins living in tents, walking from well to well and following the small patches of green, where their goats and camels could feed. She had for more than a year been dressed and living like an adult woman, which meant completely covered always. The Bedouin women were masked, like some are still today, but these were not golden beautyfying masks, but black all covering leather masks made to protect the wearer from the sun and from being seen by men, as well as limiting their sight and prevent accidental speech. Legs were covered in leather boots and hands in leather gloves, and when leaving the women side of the tent a thin veil was covering everything down to the waist. It was only allowed to lift the lower part of the mask to eat, drink or talk inside the tent. Aysha rarely saw her mother’s face, and after her own puberty, when she got her first mask, she rarely showed herself to even her parents. Women in general was only seen by their husband, if he liked to do so, and never saw other adults, as all women, family or visitors, were completely covered, and women should look down or even better turn away, if they were close to men. When they wanted to wash, they took a jar of water and went a little away from the tent, or if staying in an oasis selected a moment, when nobody was at the well or water hole. This wasn’t difficult, because even a ‘crowded’ oasis did not contain more than 4 or 5 families, less than 50 people.
On this particular day their tent was at a small oasis, which they at that time shared with another family of the same tribe, which had their tent on the opposite side of the water hole and its surrounding palm grove. Aysha had selected a time for washing in the middle of the afternoon, where everybody was relaxing in the tents, because being outside in the heat was normally unbearable. But being in an oasis it was possible to walk from the tent to the water hole in shadow, which made it acceptable. Aysha had just finished washing and only put on her skirt and stood as such naked from her waist and up slowly turning in a spot, where the sun was not blocked by the palms, to get dry. Suddenly the sound of an animal coming from the side of the other tent disturbed her. Young animals were usually not tied as they were expected to stay close to their mother. Because of that it often happened they went away on their own especially when that close to water. Aysha hesitated in going for her dress, which hang from a palm to dry, as it had been washed as well, because she knew it wasn’t completely dry yet. At this time of day nobody watched the animals closely and it couldn’t disappear in the small oasis, most often it went back on its own. But today a boy or young man a little older than Aysha was chasing it. Perhaps he had been playing with it, and it didn’t like to play with him. Aysha hadn’t really moved, when she heard and saw him catching up on the young camel, which now was drinking ten metres away from her. Normally when adults approached the water hole or just saw other people at a distance doing something private, they would either turn around and wait for a better moment, or they would make themselves seen and heard clearly before approaching. But the young man had only eyes for his camel, until Aysha’s now quick movement towards her clothes caught his eyes. He saw the naked back and feet of a beatiful young woman. And most of all he saw her beatiful long black hair flowing down her back. To cover as much as possible as fast as possible Aysha just put on her thin veil, which covered her to her waist, and then turned around to see, if she had been seen. She had. On the other side of the water hole looking directly at her was the most beatiful man, she had ever seen. She really didn’t have much to compare with of course, but she felt she had seen the most beatiful man in the world. And as she now stood where her clothes was drying, it was a spot of sun in the shadow of the oasis, which shined through the thin cloth of her veil, to show the young man a woman nearly as naked as he had not seen anyone, since he was being fed by his mother’s breasts. Even her face was only covered by the thin cloth. Aysha had been so enchanted by the sight of the young boy, that she for half a minute forgot her manners, but then her upbringing took over and she turned away. Quickly she took her belongings in her arms and moved away in between the palms, where she was hidden from view. While putting her dress on, she could now hear a fine young voice singing a tune he had just made up ‘I’ve got a young camel bringing luck. In a few years it will win great prizes, but perhaps it has already won me the greatest prize, because it took me to a beauty equal to those in Paradise.’ Aysha soon found out that the women of the other tent had been asked to make inquieries about her. Soon a wedding had been agreed on, and their first love proved to hold, when they were married. It still does Aysha always ends the story, when she is telling it herself,” Jamilah finished.
While Jamilah had been telling, the table had been made ready for dinner. Aysha says something in Arabic, which make everybody happy. Faiza says to Sally “To celebrate good neighbourhood, Faiza allows everybody to speak during dinner.” Then Faiza unbuckles Sally’s gag and after a prayer session a long dinner starts. Sally tells about how she met Peter at collage, and had been living with him for more than a year, before they got married. A story just as exotic to the wives as Aysha’s story. Then the wives tells about how they got married. None of them had met the sheik before they married, but they all say they love him. All conversation now is between the three wives and Sally. Aysha listens and Faiza whispers a translation of most of it. The children talk among themselves, and after a while get a way from the table to play somewhere else. At a break in the conversation Sally suddenly realizes, she finds it completely natural talking with three identical black figures, which she don’t regard as identical, because she knows who is who. It is nearly midnight, when there is a knocking on the door. Faiza goes to the men, and is soon back saying Peter wants to go home. Sally says “I can’t show myself to the sheik and his father in my beach dress. I would very much like to borrow the pantyhose and the abaya to be decently dressed even for a Westerner. I’m sure we can find some way of returning it, before we have to go back to England in a month or so.” Suha says “You can borrow everything, there is no need to change. But what about wearing the whole outfit, like when you drove up here. Now you and your husband has spend an evening separate like Arabs, don’t you think your husband would find it exiting being Arab a little longer?” Sally says “It’s very kind of you. I would lie, if I said no.” Suha continues “Faiza go and find the remaining clothes and Sally’s own dress, while we hug.” Then Suha embraces Sally, and Sally is embraced by two other black figures, whom she now sees as friends.
Faiza back first produce a gag saying “I was asked to bring the whole outfit. And you have to take the one layer niqab off. It’s only for indoors.” Sally takes the niqab off and suddenly blushes as her face is shown among all the veils. She puts the gag on and first starts to feel normal again as her lower face is veiled by the scarf. Then she is blinded by the three layer niqab and puts on the khimar to be ready for the men’s world. Faiza guides her through the door, where she can now hear Peter and she sheik. Peter says in a surprised voice “Is this Sally?” After a moment of silence, where the sheik has gestured Faiza to answer, she says “Your wife has been dressed in our clothes most of the day, because she didn’t find her beach dress decent. Now she did not want to offend the sheik and his hounourable father by showing herself dressed for women only company. She is now dressed like the sheiks own wives are in public. You will have to guide her, as this means even her eyes are heavily veiled.” Peter says while guiding Sally out “Once again thank you for a lovely evening. I trust it’s the right woman I’m taking home.” In the car, as soon as Peter has left the house behind them, he says “It was a pleasure spending the evening with the sheik. I understand you have had an enjoyable day yourself?” Peter just hears a faint mumble and looks shortly at Sally, who shakes her head strongly. Peter says “Are you unable to speak as well?” Now Sally is nodding strongly.
Four weeks later, less than a week before Sally and Peter return to England, it’s a little over 9 in the morning, and Sally has just sat down with a book. Peter has left for work, and she has cleared the kitchen, when the phone rings. It’s Jamilah asking if the wives can come for a visit. The sheik has gone to the city, and Aysha does not want to join, as she can’t take part in the conversation. Sally says of course they are welcome. They can speak as Peter has left, but the contents of her fridge does not match their kitchen. Jamilah says it doesn’t matter. They will be there in a quarter of an hour.
As they arrive Sally has made a pot of coffee. Faiza is sent out on the beach with the children. The wives takes off their khimar, niqab, abaya, gloves and gag and greets Sally, who is only dressed in a bathing suit. Now that they display their colourful dresses, Sally quickly learns who is who, despite they are still veiled below the eyes. As they sit on the covered porch facing the beach, Jamilah notice two swimming masks with attached snorkels. She says “I can swim a little. Could I try one of these, and can you teach me to use it?” Sally confirms and immediately Jamilah takes a snorkel and her khimar saying to the other two “While we are swimming, I want an outlook on the roof of the house. At least one of you go up there now. And if you want to swim or play with the children, you must send Faiza up on the roof.” Suha and Malika head for the stairs to look at the view and find out how hot it is. Jamilah and Sally quickly make the twenty meters from the porch to the beach, and Jamilah stops a few meters from the edge of the water to take off her slippers and her veil, and place the veil and the khimar on top of the slippers. But then Sally gets really surprised. Jamilah continues undressing by taking off her headscarf, dress and trousers as well. But she doesn’t show any lingerie or much more skin. She is wearing a muslim swimming suit. It is bright blue all over and looks much like a rain wear set, consisting of loose fitting top and pants with built-in elastic bands at wrists, ankles and waist to avoid sliding up. The material is opaque and seems water repellant. What makes it different from rain wear is the head covering. The often attached hood, which limits head movements, has been replaced by a swimming cap covering hair and forehead and an outer head covering going down over the shoulders and closed with two clips at the front. Sally says “You have planned to go swimming from home. It is a very modest and quite practical suit, but I wouldn’t give it a prize for beauty. Are Suha and Malika dressed like you?” Sally had expected a nod, but Jamilah talks saying “I guess so. I bought suits for all of us, after our first meeting sort of made it acceptable to go swimming here. Swimming in ordinary dress is not good, and swimming in western swim suits is too immodest for us. I hope this will work. It is the first time I go swimming in it.” Then she walks directly out in the water until it reaches her waist, where she lets her glide down and makes a few movements with her arms and legs. Sally quickly sees that her claim of being able to swim a little maybe should be corrected to very little, but not much is needed for snorkeling here. Perhaps ten meters further out there is plenty to look at. Sally tells her to breathe only through the snorkel in her mouth, something not so easy for one often forced to breathe only through her nose. But when she forgets once in a while, it is only to lift her head, get her breath back to normal and start again. Jamilah has lived all her life quite close to the Gulf, and it’s the first time she sees this fantastic scenery. She can’t get enough of it. Sally enjoys it as well, but she has been snorkeling everyday she has been in this house, except the day she was walking the beach and met the sheik’s family. As she quickly sees she only needs to be close to Jamilah, if something unexpected happens and she panics, she turns around from time to time to follow what is happening on the beach. Less than half an hour after she and Jamilah went in the water Malika and Suha are bathing as well. In bright green and yellow swimming suits respectively. They just swim a little very close to the coast and sometimes so close the children starts playing with them. Sally can see Faiza has moved a chair up on the roof and is trying to find cover under some big black piece of cloth, maybe an extra khimar fetched from the car. Now it’s not so pleasant being the servant.
Sally is wearing a waterproof watch. As it is noon, she suggests they take a lunch break. After a few minutes drying in the sun the wives put on their colourful dress and trousers and their headscarf and veil on top of the swimming suit before leaving the beach. When they are all assembled in the house Jamilah leads a short prayer session, while Sally empties her fridge. Lunch is a buffet, where everybody serves themself from the kitchen table. The simple meal matches their condition. They eat for hunger after some demanding hours at the beach. After a short meal without much talking Jamilah says she is ready to go back. Suha and Malika want to try snorkeling as well, but Jamilah won’t give up her mask and snorkel, and as first wife the others are not allowed to object. Sally agrees to swim without, which means Suha and Malika can use hers in turn. Before one o’clock they are all back in the water except Faiza, who has to get back on the roof.
A little after two o’clock Faiza comes running down on the beach as fast as her clothes allows. A man pulling a camel with a woman on its back is coming directly towards the house not following the road. She estimates they will be here in five minutes. Suha and Malika, who is even worse at swimming than Jamilah, has stayed close to the shore and immediately gets up. They let the water run off and let the sun dry for a little over one minute before they start dressing. Jamilah and Sally a little further out haven’t noticed Faiza. Faiza waves her arms in hope of being spotted, because none of them dare shout. They have already stretched their limits by talking a little on the beach and not being gagged. But then Suha finds the solution asking the children to shout. They hear it immediately and can see Suha and Malika have started dressing. It only takes Sally one minute to reach the shore, but Jamilah is far behind. Sally hears what is up and says “If someone wants to visit or go down on the beach right here, I’ll try to delay them at the front of the house, while you walk in at the back and cover as much as possible.” In her bathing suit she has no trouble running as fast as she can. She heads directly for the bedroom, where she puts on the first long dress with long sleeves she finds. Then she puts on slippers and walks out the front door.
Less than 50 metres from the house an old man is pulling a camel with a veiled woman on its back. The woman is dressed in an old fashioned Bedouin dress in light blue and bright yellow. And under her waist long thin black veil a leather mask is clearly visible. The man is dressed in white thobe and ghutra like most men around here. Sally regrets she haven’t put on a scarf to be more in accordance with local customs and cover her untidy hair, but putting a scarf around her wet hair is not natural to her. The old man bows to her saying in a very limited English “Salam-aleikum. My name sheik Hamdan bin Ahmed. Wife likes tea with her friend Sally Owen and daughters-in-law.” He has gestured towards the woman on the camel. Sally is shocked. It is Aysha on the camel and her husband walking it. She never saw the old sheik at her visit, because she got in and out of the women’s quarters practically blind.
This is unexpected. Sally can’t delay them much by asking about who they are and why they are here. She has to invite them in immediately. She says “It’s a great hounour to me to be able to serve tea to my distiguished neighbour and his wife, whom I had such an enjoyful evening with some weeks ago. Please come inside this simple house, which cannot match your own home in any way.”
A minute had passed with the greetings, and another minute pass, while the old sheik takes the camel into the shadow under an open roof next to the sheik’s car, commands it to lie down, helps Aysha off the camel and ties its front legs. Sally is a little nervous about what to be seen, as she opens the front door. In the living room she quickly counts that all the women are present fully covered. While walking from the door with the old sheik and Aysha just behind her Sally says “Your parents-in-law has come to visit me.” At these words the three wives clustered in the small sofa immediately put their head in their lab, even if they are veiled completely and practically blind. Faiza bows her head to look at her feet. Seconds later, seeing who is entering, the children rush forward to be hugged by their grand parents.
Sally quickly realizes she has to rearrange the furniture to get a social acceptable situation. She moves the sofa table as far away from the sofa as possible, which is something like five meters. Then she takes the most comfortable arm chair and places it at the table with its back to the sofa and gestures the old sheik to sit down. There is just one other arm chair, which she places on the other side of the table for Aysha to sit in, and then takes a chair from the dining table for herself and places it next to Aysha’s. Still standing she says towards the old sheik “I hope you can accept western furniture in this arrangement. I only have English Breakfast Tea and the pot is only for three or four persons.” The old sheik says “I sit comfortably, thank you. If sugar I think tea is fine. And if Faiza takes children to beach, we three can drink and talk in peace.” Faiza immediately understands the order and push the children in front of her towards the back door. Sally is glad she chose the right arrangement. The wives do not mingle with a male of the older generation. She says “Excuse me for a minute, while I make the tea. You have dismissed the maid.” The old sheik says “Don’t worry. Arabs don’t count minutes.” Sally notices she’s the only one making noise, as she starts the kettle and gathers glases and plates.
Returning to the table, she takes a look at the wives in the sofa. There are wet spots to be seen on the khimar in the middle. Jamilah must have walked directly from the water to the house without waiting to dry. She places glases, plates and a package of bisquits on the table and returns to the kitchen for the tea. Back at the table she says to the old sheik “You must be tired after walking perhaps three kilometres from your home.” The old sheik says “When young I walk fifty kilometres many days a month. Now only small trips for pleasure. Maybe ten kilometres once a week. And no loading camels. Only today.” Sally says “You are in good shape. Many people at my age would be proud to have walked ten kilometres in a hot desert. May I ask how old you are?” The old sheik says “64 I think.” During conversation Sally worries, if she has to refill the sugar bowl, as both the old sheik and Aysha have put five spoonfuls in their glasses.
Aysha has flipped the front part of her veil down her back and drinks by lifting the bottom of her mask a little out with her left leather glove. Only the pupils of her eyes are showing. It is impossible to see it’s a woman of almost similar age to the old sheik under the covering. Aysha follows the conversation, but when her husband talks, Sally suspects she is looking behind him to inspect the wives in the sofa. Sally decides to get Aysha more involved saying “I’ve heard the wonderful story about how you met your wife. The way she is dressed now seems like I remember it was described in the story. Is this the traditional women’s dress of your tribe?” The old sheik says “Yes, women dressed like this, before we moved to houses. I ask her.” He says something in Arabic, and Aysha while holding her mask a little out answers with a quite long stream of words. The first time she has said anything at this meeting Sally thinks. The old sheik says “Wife says she got this dress at wedding, but exactly like dress she wear before wedding. After Sally’s visit she found dress behind new clothes and wanted to show Sally. She asked me to take her here. She thinks Bedouin dress is better than fashion.” Sally says “Tell her I find it very beatiful too. I, like many Westerners, find masks make women mysterious and attractive. But I guess this mask is for modesty and protection. I would have liked to have been here forty years ago and being dressed like that, in stead of the dress I tried while visiting your house.” Now the old sheik talks Arabic to his wife, followed by an answer from Aysha.
While they talk Sally takes a look at the wives, who sit completely unmoving. There still seems to be wet spots at least on the wife in the middle. Cool air-condtioned air isn’t the best to dry clothes. What do Aysha think of their wet clothes, if she has noticed it? The old sheik looks at her again saying “Wife knows Sally like to try her clothes. She has bag with own normal clothes on camel. She change to normal clothes and Sally becomes Bedouin woman riding with me back.” Sally says “I would very much like to be dressed as a bedouin woman, but it will take more than an hour to get to your house on camel, and then I have to be driven back or be collected by my husband. We have some things to do, before we go back to England.” The old sheik says “I know your husband will take you home, and I know western women are independent, but I don’t think you say no, when he has accepted a dinner invitation for both of you with my son and me this evening. It is my wife, who thought neighbourhood should end appropriately. While walking down here I phone my son, who phone back later, saying your husband happily accepted.” Sally is surprised, but with a big smile bows her head first towards the old sheik and then towards Aysha saying “Here a wife must obey her husband. When he say we dine at your home of course we do. It is an honour to be invited to dinner. And it is an even greater honour to be transported up there by your highness.” Aysha appearantly has understood Sally has accepted, as she nods her head, and the old sheik seems touched by Sally’s words. But he just says “Everything is going like wife plans as always. Now we say thank you for tea, and I go and get wife’s clothes. Then I go down to beach, while you get ready.” The old sheik goes outside and within a minute returns with a bundle of clothes, which he puts on the table. He is just about to go out again, when Aysha now standing blocks his way. He says a few words in Arabic and then Aysha says something. Finally the old sheik turns to Sally and says “My wife likes to know if daughters-in-law was swimming?” Sally says “They have, but they were properly dressed I think” The old sheik translates and leaves. Aysha lifts at her mask with one hand, while she stretches the other towards Sally saying “Gloves off.” Sally unbuttons the sleeve and sees the glove is laced up her arm. After having both gloves removed Aysha goes to the bathroom to change. Only now the wives lift their heads and get up from the sofa. They are all busy tidying up their clothes, and none of them says a word. If they are not gagged already, they probably do it now, Sally thinks, while she clears the table and puts the furniture back at its usual places.
As Aysha some minutes later comes out from the bathroom completely covered except her outer eye veil flipped back, she finds the wives standing near the front door mute and blind ready to go. Sally wonders, if she is gagged as well, but immediately gets a negative answer as Aysha in an incredibly muffled voice says something in Arabic to the wives. But they must have understood, because all three flip back all layers of their niqabs revealing their eyes, and after some rustling with the hands up at the head one of them walks over in front of Sally saying “I’m Malika. Aysha says it is rude to leave after a lunch without saying goodbye. I agree. You will have dinner with the men tonight, but I hope we get a chance for a final goodbye before you leave.” Sally and Malika hug each other. Malika walks away from Sally, who is faced by another wife. She says “I’m Suha. I’ll never forget these days with you. I hope we can stay in contact, so we’ll know if you take a more modest direction, and you’ll know if we try new wild things. I hope we can meet again sometime.” They hug, and as Suha turns away Sally knows it’s Jamilah. She says “It’s been one of the most exciting days since I got married. And thank you for the lunch and everything. I’m sure we’ll be allowed to exchange mails. After all we are trusted to use the internet for respectable purposes, because our husband can monitor everything, and we were allowed to buy the dress you saw today. I have nothing more to say, except Aysha wants you to guide us out to the back seat of the car, before you are turned to a bedouin.” Jamilah and Sally hug for so long that Aysha eventually taps Jamilah’s shoulder. Jamilah steps back saying “I’ve decided to ask for a swimming pool at our city house.” Then she gags herself and covers her face completely like the others. Sally says “Now I can talk to all of you at once without being interrupted. But I have nothing to say. I just hope we get a chance to meet, before I finally leave your family tonight. I better get dressed. I’ll guide you out one at a time.” Sally shortly hugs each wife once more at the car door, before she guides her down on the seat.
Inside with Aysha again, Aysha holds at Sally’s dress saying “Off.” Then she points to the Bedouin trousers and dress saying “On.” Sally says “I understand. You want me to replace my dress with yours. Not put it on top of my own dress. I will change in the bedroom. I need fresh underwear and a little makeup as well.” Sally has illustrated her speech by pointing up under her dress and putting a finger to her lips and eye brows. There is no need to emphasize her present underwear is a bathing suit. She takes the bedouin clothes and goes first to the bathroom and a little later to the bedroom.
When Sally returns to the living room Aysha’s eyes, movements and muffled sounds clearly shows she’s laughing. Sally had looked in the mirror and must agree that a pale redhair with makeup doesn’t look like a Bedouin, just because she is dressed like a bedouin. But the abstract patterned light blue dress reaching below her knees actually suits her quite well. The similarly styled loose trousers in yellow only show a little, but contrast the dress nicely. And when her dressing is finished, she will look like a bedouin woman, even if she had green skin. Aysha helps her arrange an opague black scarf around her head and neck especially covering her chin, which is most in danger of being shown, when drinking or eating. Then she hands her the mask. Sally feels the soft black leather between her fingers, as she puts it up to her face. The nearly circular eye holes are less than twice the size of her irises. She has a completely clear sight, but her peripheral vision is gone. To change her view, she has to move her head, moving the eyes alone doesn’t work. Aysha knots the lower of the two thin ties of the mask, the one at the level of the eyes, and then Sally herself knots the upper ties. Sally tries to speak “Iol ee enoros..” She grabs the lower edge of the mask at her neck, and feels it easily opens a gap to the face, as it bends around its lower tie. She repeats “It will be interesting how I feel, when we reach your house, having worn it for an hour in the sun. At the moment breathing isn’t any problem, but of course it is designed to being worn always.” Sally takes her hand down again. Aysha brings a large yellow scarf, made from the same fabric as the trousers, and arrange it around her head and shoulders covering her upper arms and most of her chest, and like a hood covering the edge of the mask except the lower front. It is beatifully contrasting both the mask and the dress. Then she puts on the short boots of soft black leather, which are easily laced. Aysha bows down and pulls the legs of the trousers out of the boots and on top of them down to the ankles. The gloves are not as easy. She has to unbutton the cuff of the dress, which she by habit closed when she put it on. Then the sleeve has to be pushed up above the elbow to fit the soft black leather glove, which reaches halfway up the forearm. It should have been fitted before she put on the dress, but doing buttons and ties with these gloves, although they are quite thin, requires some practise. Help is needed anyway, as the gloves, which maybe could have been unlaced by the wearer, certainly can’t be laced. Aysha do the lacing and buttons her sleeves. Now only the pale blue eyes reveals this is not a genuine bedouin woman. To obscure the eyes and protect them from blowing sand, Aysha brings her the thin black veil. Sally places the large piece of clothes on top of her head, so it reaches her waist all way round. She puts a hand to the mask and says “I better try walking a little in this dress. I’ll fetch the others at the beach.” Sally has pointed to herself and in the direction of the beach to be sure Aysha understands. Aysha nods and sits down.
Five minutes later they are all in the house. At the beach the adults had laughed, when the two youngest children, had run to what they thought was their grandmother to obviously tell her how much they liked playing down here. Now Sally gets her hand bag, while Faiza collects what belongs to the family. Faiza walks out to the car returning shortly after stopping just inside the door and lowering her head towards the old sheik. He turns to Sally saying “My family is ready.” Sally embraces Aysha, and then lifts one hand to her mask saying “It has been a pleasure being with you. I don’t know how to thank you for trying all this clothes. I like it very much. Perhaps it will make me dress more modestly in the future, as Suha expects. If you need contacts in England to buy something or anything else, where I might help you, just let me know through your son or your daughters-in-law.” Sally lets her hand off the mask. The old sheik makes a translation of her words. Aysha goes to Faiza, who flips down Aysha’s blinding eye veil and guides her out. The children and the old sheik follows, while Sally closes the door. Sally and the old sheik watch, while Faiza turns the car and drives away. Sally lifts the mask and says “Women are not allowed to drive in this country, are they?” The old sheik says “No. But she only drives out here outside roads, except small kilometre road to get to your house.”
They go to the camel. The old sheik helps her mount it and shows her how to sit. Then he unties its legs and shouts a command that makes it rise. Sally feels she is going to get thrown off, but nothing happens. The old sheik just starts walking away from the car track directly towards his home. Sally soon sees he just trails his own track in the opposite direction. It doesn’t take long to get used to the camel’s movements. Soon she is just enjoying the ride and the beautiful scenery. It is extremely quiet with no traces of the world made by man. It is hot, but she doesn’t feel boiling. Maybe the light wind goes through her dress and transports her sweat away. And her head covering feels isolating like being under a roof in the shadow. Finally her veil attenuates the strong sunlight to something acceptable to her eyes. She can feel the centuries of development that makes her dress the best thing to wear just here. But perhaps the headcovering is a little overdone, as the old sheik seems to be ok protected by just a cap with a ghutra on top. They walk gradually upwards as Sally’s house is close to the sea, where the sheik’s house is on a small plateau overlooking the plain going down to the sea. The ground slowly changes from dominantly sand to being rocky.
Sally feels they have been walking for half an hour, but time has passed quickly, because the old sheik suddenly stops and shouts a command to the camel that makes it lie down. Then he says “Less than half an hour to house. Small trip. No need for break, but Sally might be thirsty. I think Sally must try rest in desert.” He helps Sally down and takes a water-skin tied with a leather strap to the back of the saddle. They sit down directly on the ground such that the camel gives them shelter from the wind. The sheik opens the skin and takes a small sip before handing it to Sally. Sally flips back her veil and pull at her mask to get the skin to her mouth. She drinks corresponding to a normal glass and hands the skin back to the old sheik. The water is cool, cooled by the evaporation through the skin, but doesn’t really taste of anything. The old sheik says “Good water from spring in mountains behind house. But if long camel walk, Sally just drank ration for all day.” Sally holding at her mask says “It is my first camel ride. I must make errors. But on this fine camel and with such a good leader, I could continue for hours. I really have enjoyed the ride so far. I think I have experienced some of the things that make you like walking in the desert. It’s a shame we are not ending at a tent, where we could spend the evening at a camp fire.” The old sheik says “Yes I long for tent many nights watching television. But you would not like riding for many more hours. I’m afraid you will feel this small trip on parts of body tonight and tomorrow. We continue now.” Sally flips down her veil and rises. The old sheik may be right about feeling sore later. At the last part the ground, now much more rock than sand, rises more steeply, but the trial they follow ensures a smooth unproblematic walk. They cross a small hilltop and the sheik’s house is just a few hundred meters away. Just outside the wall of the yard the old sheik stops, makes the camel lie down, and Sally gets off. The old sheik just turns his back to the house waving his arms to show the scenery they have walked. Sally flips the veil back and looks at the plain sloping down towards the Gulf in the late afternoon sun. Out in the distance the house, where she has spend such an enjoyable time, is just visible. It is one of the most beatiful views, she has ever seen. She hasn’t any words to describe the view. She turns to the camel, pads it on the neck with one hand and hold at her mask with the other saying “Thank you my fine desert ship. I would love to ride you again some time.” The old sheik just says “I’ll feed the camel. Peter’s car is here. You just ring main door.” She does, and shortly after the sheik opens. He says “Welcome Sally. I know it must be you, because a real Bedouin woman wouldn’t had her veil flipped back outside her tent. I think Peter will love you dressed like that.” While they enter Sally flips her veil down. Peter says “What a wonderful outfit. It hides your freckles, it stops you from answering back and it would probably protect against rain and smog in England as well. Where can we buy one to take home?” Sally lifts at the mask and says “I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. It’s much easier to talk with this mask, than with the outfits they wear today. And maybe we can buy something looking a bit like it in the souks, but this mask is probably made by Aysha’s mother or some woman in her family. It is the best quality craftmanship.” Peter says “You know I was joking. Please take the leather off hands, feet and head. I want to feel the craftsmanship in my hands and I’ve been told we’re in for a seven course gourmet diner, which I doubt you can handle properly dressed like this.” Sally stretches her arms palms up towards Peter. The sheik and Peter each take an arm, unbuttons the sleeve and unlace a glove. Sally then takes off her veil, her yellow headscarf and unties the mask. A red warm but not directly perspiring face appears. Sally is about to bow down to unlace the boots, when something gets to her mind. She turns to Peter saying “I’ve done it again. I’ve come here in borrowed clothes without bringing my own clothes to change to. You have to drive down and fetch something.” The sheik says “No need to do that. It’s just a matter of a simle dress and perhaps a pair of sandals or slippers. I think we can manage that. I’m sure my mother won’t let you take this dress with you, it is unique handcrafted by her own family, but we all, especially my father, would like you to wear it, while we eat. If you go to the bathroom over there, freshen up and fix your hair, then Faiza will bring a pair of slippers. Then we’ll handle the dress problem later.” As Sally is about to go Peter says “I think you should take the black scarf off. I know you like to cover in respect of the Arab dress code, but tonight you’re a Westerner, a man, in traditional arab eyes. Behave like a man and talk freely with everyone at the table.” Sally takes the scarf off and puts it with the other items, she has just taken off, and leaves.
They dine in a room similar to the women’s room, where Sally was eating on the first visit. At one end is cushions around a low square table. At the other a small pool with a fountain and green plants in a section without roof. The sheik first gestures Sally to sit facing the open section, then Peter is seated to her left. Then the sheik himself sits down at her right facing Peter, and the old sheik takes the empty side facing her. Then the sheik turns towards the entrance, lifts his hands and makes three loud claps. Peter gets a very surprised look on his face and stares towards the entrance behind Sally. She turns her head to see four completely black covered women moving from the door in a line, until the first is directly behind her to her left. While the first one kneels down beside her, the remaining move around the corner behind Peter, where the second kneels down to his left. The remaining two move behind the old sheik and one kneels down, and finally the last kneels to the left of the sheik. Each woman moves on her knees up to the table, reaches for a bottle of fruit drink and fill the glass of their master, before moving back to where she first kneeled. The sheik lifts his glass and says “My father and I would like to welcome our good neighbours and friends.” They all lift their glases and drink. The sheik continues “I hope our friendship may continue long after we’re not longer neighbours. To get in a good mood that strengthen our friendship during this evening, I’ve arranged this meal. As we are away from the commodities of the city, it will be simple but hopefully good courses. Out here we only have a minimum of servants, Faiza is maid and her husband cooking. But for an occasion like this, where both my mother and I like more servants, I luckily have a reserve.”
Sally looks at the woman facing her behind the old sheik. As she kneels just waiting, she is just one piece of black cloth. No hands, no feet, no face. A black sack of silk, where the largest part is mysteriously rising from the floor ending in a rounded top. Peter has nearly emptied his glass during the welcome toast. Now Sally notices his ‘sack’ coming forward. A slit opens at the side of the ‘sack’, and a gloved hand coming out of a loose but completely closed sleeve appears and fills the glass. The arm and hand disappear completely again and the ‘sack’ moves back. The ‘sacks’ observe the table, and as such must be able to see. The sheik and Peter have started a conversation about the business devolopment. Sally turns to look at her own ‘sack’. Even at a distance of less than two meters she can’t see any eye openings. The ‘sack’ must consist of at least two layers, where it is possible to see through the outer layer, which has no eye openings. Then the inner layer either has very small holes or a black eye mask is worn or the area around the eyes have black makeup. When they entered, the buttom end swept the floor all way round for several centimeters, but Sally realizes the bottom must be closed implying they walk on the ‘sac’. If not their feet would show, when they move backwards on their knees.
As Sally turns back to the table the old sheik says “You feel camel ride now?” Sally says “I must admit it has touched something, I usually don’t exercise.” The old sheik continues “It is first time wives are used as servants for visitors. My wife is very angry at them.” Sally says “Because they went swimming?” The old sheik says “No. Because they have not told her what they would do. And maybe most of all they have not asked her, when buying swimming suits. For my wife, it is not enough that my son approves their clothes. In the end she responsible for lost family honour, if they are dressed improperly.” While the old sheik has spoken, Sally has noticed the sheik has gestured towards his servant. Immediately she got up and started walking out. The three others follow. Within a minute the servants reappear and each kneels down as before with a plate, which is placed in front of their master. After they have eaten something Sally says to the old sheik “This is a very delicious dish. But if your wife punish the wives by letting them serve here, she punishes herself by having to eat with the children alone.” The old sheik says “I have not looked, but I think she is eating with us. She is just sitting a little away. Try to look at the roof.” Sally looks around like she’s admiring the architecture of the open end of the room, but she is only interested in the uper rim of the opening. Yes, above the right roof edge she gets a glimpse of a black head. If this is normal behaviour, no wonder women, seemingly living very secluded, is able to intrigue at least as good as men. Which makes Sally think of the ‘sacks’. They seem like inhuman forms and are probably gagged to avoid accidental noises, but as they are able to see, even if no eyes are seen, they are probably able to hear as well. It would not be wise talking badly about the wives to entertain the men. Sally says to the old sheik “I suppose the wives are gagged, but are they able to hear?” The old sheik answers “I will not speak badly about them here.”
Peter and the sheik’s conversation turn to more cultural subjects, and soon all four are taking part in the conversation. Meanwhile dishes are removed and new coming in a smoothless flow, as in the finest restaurants. Much later, where Sally feels she has to take a break from both the conversation and the food, because she feels completely filled, she suddenly realizes she has totally forgotten, it is her friends, who are the black objects around the table, who immediately fills her glass, when it approaches empty. She has been acting like, if it was a barrel beside her, where she could just hold her glass to the tap to get it filled. Hopefully she hasn’t said anything bad about any of them.
Shortly after they move to sofas close to the pool. Fruits and nuts are on a table, but they just drink a little. Now only one servant is present. Perhaps the punishment of the wives has ended. The reason for the open roof gets obvious to Sally, as she feels the refreshing cool air coming down. It makes her look up, and besides a beatiful star filled sky, she gets a glimpse of a black head. Aysha is still with them. An hour later they say goodbye. The sheik says to Sally “Ah yes. I promised you a simple dress for your drive home. Just go with the maid.” As Sally expected it was Faiza, who had been serving them after diner. Sally follows the ‘sack’ as it moves into the women’s section. She has hoped to be able to talk a little with the wives, but they sit unmoving on cushions along one wall still dressed as ‘sacks’, as Faiza leads her past them into the dressing room. Faiza leaves immediately closing the door behind her. The room is completely tidy. There are no dresses to look at laying around, and of course she won’t open the closets. Sally gets a little impatient, as it takes around five minutes before the door opens again. Faiza enters, now dressed in her normal abaya with sleeves and showing eyes. She is followed by Aysha. Sally says “Thank you very much. It’s been a wonderful experience wearing this dress and the rest of the outfit. I’m so ashamed I have to beg for something to wear once more.” Faiza translates her words to Arabic, and translates the other way Aysha saying “At your house I noticed you just took your hand bag for the camel ride. You didn’t give any clothes to Faiza to bring in the car. I didn’t tell you, as I thought you needed a souvenir to remind you of this day, and we only have clothes to give away. There are two presents, one from my daughters-in-law and one from me. They want you to be dressed blindfolded and first look in the mirror, when the present is fitted. Is that ok?” Sally says “Thank you very much. I had just expected to get an old out of fashion dress. It is only a few kilometers in a dark desert, where we probably even won’t meet anyone. I could have taken this dress off in the car before leaving and driven home in underwear. But of course your plans or games sounds much more exiting. Please blindfold me.”
Faiza is ready with a black folded scarf, which she ties over Sally’s eyes while translating her words. Then the bedouin dress is unbuttoned and removed. Next the bedouin trousers are untied and removed, and Sally expects to get something on. But in stead her bra is removed and her panties pulled down. At the same time several silk gloved hands are touching her in a very pleasurable manner. It is unlikely it is Aysha. The wives must be present. Perhaps Faiza only blindfolded her. She is grabbed around the waist from behind and pulled towards a silk covered body. The body arches backwards with her until she is practically lying on her back on a nearly horizontal silk covered torso. Both her legs are lifted, her panties are removed and new panties are pulled up her legs, immediately followed by what feels like delicate silk stockings slowly unrolled from her toes up to her knees. Then her legs are put down and her support rises forcing her upright. Both her arms are lifted, the panties are fitted and a new bra is fastened. Then long silk gloves are rolled up to her elbows and her arms are released. For perhaps thirty seconds nothing happens, but Sally is feeling quite aroused. Then her blindfold is removed. First Sally looks around and as expected the three wives still in ‘sacks’, are surrounding her. And Faiza and Aysha are there as well. She looks in the mirror and sees the most exquisite black lingerie set, she has ever seen. To have such a piece and then in a beach house, would be unthinkable to Sally. But perhaps they are all wearing something similar? Sally thinks and feels she looks extremely sexy. The gloves and stockings add to the sexy look, although both Peter and herself perhaps would have selected something less opague. No wonder arab families are big, if this is what the men see every night. Sally is speechless and chooses just to hug each wife in turn. As the third wife pulls her arms inside the ‘sack’ Faiza says “Are you ready for the second present?” Sally nods and is blindfolded again.
She gets a silk shirt on, which is buttoned at both wrists and the neck simultanously. Then nothing happens for a little while, until her blindfold is removed again. But she can’t see. The light in the room has been turned off. A pair of arms hold her at both sides. Gloves probe her face, as a scarf is wound around her head and neck leaving her face uncovered. Then her nose is pinched, forcing her mouth to open wide, which results in a leather covered rod in her mouth. Immediately following a soft leather hood is pulled against her face from behind and then zipped at the back. The weak sounds of people moving, clothes rustling and the air condition disappear. If this is part of the dress the wives have been wearing all evening, her guessing with the old sheik was wrong. The wives are both mute and deaf. At least it means Sally doesn’t have to worry, if she said something bad about them, while she had forgotton it was her friends inside the ‘sacks’ serving them. While Sally has concentrated on her head covering a large piece of cloth has been pulled over her head and is unfolded down over her body. This means of course no one is holding her anymore. But she can’t move her arms very far from her body. If it is the same garment as the wives are wearing, there should be a slit at the side somewhere. She tries searching with her hands, but can’t find any. Again she is grabbed from behind and forced down to horizontal by the person holding her arching back. Her legs are shortly lifted, while the cloth is pulled over her feet, and then she is brought to stand up again. After perhaps ten seconds the light is turned on.
She is standing in font of the mirror looking at a black ‘sack’ – herself. Her vision is dark, but quite clear. She still can’t see any eye openings. Judging from her lack of peripheral vision the eye holes in this mask seems to be smaller than in the bedouin mask. Sally turns around and sees three identical shapes plus Aysha and Faiza. Faiza is writing on a card on the dressing table. She moves to the side and points to the card for Sally to read. It’s a little blurred, but ok to read as the writing is larger than normal hand writing:
I think you would much more like to go home dressed like this, than in an old plain dress. Then you get a little punished for leading my daughters-in-law astray as well.
Sally turns to Aysha wanting to embrace her, but she can’t. She moves in front of her, which isn’t as easy as it looked, when the wives moved. Then she goes down on her knees and bows her head to the floor a couple of times. As she looks up on Aysha, Aysha with her right hand pads her on top of her head, like she was a dog. Faiza is beside her with her hand bag. Sally rises, while Faiza shows her she puts the card with Aysha’s message in the bag. Then Faiza turns to the nearest wife, who like Sally shows no arms. Faiza taps at the wife, where her upper arm must be, and the wife lets her gloved hand appear through the slit. Then Faiza signals her to take the hand inside the sack again. Now Faiza puts her hand to the lower end of the slit and pulls up. The slits can be zipped shut from the outside only. Faiza continues zipping, until all wives like Sally are inside a sack mute, deaf and unable to get out themselves.
Aysha goes into the living room and the wives follow. Sally tries to follow the last wife, but advances very carefully, as she is afraid of tripping, even if Faiza is at her side to support her. A couple of meters before Sally reaches the entrance door Faiza stops her. It appears Aysha has said something. Next Aysha comes and shortly embraces her, gesturing the wives to do the same. While the first wife leans against Sally, she finds it strange that the wife knows, who she is touching, but Sally doesn’t know exactly who she is parting with. After the third wife has touched her, Sally sees her kneel down on a cushion and put her head down on it, next to the two other wives in the same position. How long they have to stay like that Sally will never know, but it is the last glimpse she gets of her friends, as Faiza gestures her to walk out of the room.
When they are with the men, the sheik say a few Arabic words to Faiza. Faiza says “The mother of the sheik has found out Sally was interested in the clothes that the servants had on during diner, and as a present has dressed her likewise in stead of an old dress. Mr. Owen just has to unzip a little to make use of her service, when they get home.” Peter says “It doesn’t surprise me she ended up like that.”
But when they are home at the beach house again and Peter unzips Sally, he certainly is pleaseantly surprised.
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