Souad was for the first time on her way to participate in the annual procession through the Algeirs city centre – the Belaredj, meaning ‘white stork’ in Arabic. An appropriate name as all particiants would wear the traditional white haik and its accompanying veil, the aadjar. The purpose of the procession was both to keep people’s awarenes of these wonderful traditional garments alive and to protest that black garments from the Arabian peninsula was gaining in popularity as the right modest garments. Souad took a small detour to try to make her friend Rim participate as well. She doubted she will be successful though, because Rim was convinced that a woman should be completely covered showing nothing of herself in public, and because of this Rim was always fully veiled in black when leaving her home. To her the haik makes the wearer show both calves hands and forearms and the aadjar barely hides the face. Souad on the other hand can’t wear the haik in her daily life as a shop assistent. She has to use her hands extensively and stretch them up to reach high shelves, and most important the aadjar would not be permitted by her employer because many of the customers see it as being backwards and a symbol of oppression. The way the haik is fitted is from a time when women in daily life almost only went out in public to visit friends and do shopping, and for this the haik is not that much restrictive.
Souad knocks Rim’s door for a woman fully veiled in black to answer.
After the first words Souad recognises the usual muffled voice of Rim in public to be confirmed it is her saying “Hello Souad, I’m on my way to watch the Belaredj. You are ready to go as well I can see. Let’s walk together.”
Souad answered “It was just why I came Rim, but first wouldn’t you wear the right clothing for once for just a couple of hours to be a participant and not just a spectator? I have an extra haik and aadjar right here with me in the bag. The clothing is sufficiently covering to make you anonymous except at close range. Few have seen you anyway to be able to recognise you, and most of them dress like you to probably not come as spectators. The Belaredj is also a protest against the way you dress as you know and some participants or spectators may harass you.”
Rim said “You are probably right that I won’t be recognised Souad, but still it’s my conviction not to show any skin. Regarding being harassed I am aware of this and I didn’t intend to be in the first row of spectators but rather stand at the back in a dark doorway or at the entrance to a dark alley. No thank you, you can lend your extra haik to someone else.”
To this Souad suggested “But you could also wear the haik a little different from most of us to be better covered Rim. I don’t mind that you let the lower part sweep the ground and then you can hold the upper part in front of your face like this:”
Seeing what Souad meant made Rim say “You are right that the fabric of the haik covers much better than the thin fabric of the aadjar, but a part of the face is still uncovered and having to hold the fabric there makes the forearm point upwards to make the shirt sleeve, which might have covered the arm, slide down.”
Souad said to this “You can pin the fabric at your ear not to hold at it constantly. And wear long white gloves, if you have them, to cover both hands and forearms. But perhaps copying the women of the sourthern cities of Morroco would be a better alternative. I’ve brought a scarf if you prefer this.”
Souad continued “And you might hide your eyes as well. Look!”
Rim’s voice showed content as she said “That is much better. I don’t have to show neither hands nor forearms nor legs, my face is well hidden and the sunglasses appears to be just as covering as my usual eye layers. If I may borrow all you have shown me and you’ll approve of a small change I’ll accompany you as participant in the procession.”
Souad handed the items to Rim who went back in.
After a couple of minutes the door opened again. Souad observed Rim with a smile. She would stick out to a majority of the spectators when she directly passed them in the procession with her almost completely white head but if walking in the middle of the procession she would stick out less.
Souad nodded approvingly to Rim and said “I have never seen an aadjar on top of a fully closed haik, but I think it will be appreciated that you wear one like everybody else. I’m so happy that we together could come up with a solution for you to participate in the procession Rim. You might even become a style icon!”
Souad padded Rim on the back to make her start walking and then took hold of her own haik to hold it closed while she started walking as well.
Rim got quite many stares and was frequently photographed. Also she got many approving nods and gestures, and it was nice that the foul gestures or shouts were few.
One of the organisers moved to walk beside her and then said “I’m very happy that we have one from the South as well. You should have been at the front to remind everyone that there are towns here in Algeria where most women wear the haik as part of their everyday life. It would have been just fine dressing as you do at home, but I appreciate that you have added an aadjar here today to help us promote this beautiful piece of needlework which also is an acceptable veil to those who are not as pious as you are down there.”
Rim didn’t speak but only nodded to thank for the appraisal. In fact she had not spoken since they left her door. It had not occured to Souad that there were actually towns in the remote South deep into the Sahara desert where it was more or less mandatory for women to be completely veiled and tradition had established the veiling as a fully covering haik held closed so that at most only one eye would be seen. The people living down there with the women veiling like that was Mozabites – a sect of Islam comparable in strictness to the Wahhabies of Saudi Arabia.
When the procession was over Souad accompanied Rim back to her door again where Souad said “Without you being especially attracted to the Wahhabi teachings wouldn’t it be just as good to you to follow the Mozabites? Then you and Abdelkader could move to the South for you not to be looked down upon or harassed for wearing a black abaya and a niqab with eye cover. There are many jobs down there suitable for him in the oil business, I think.”
For the first time since they left her door Rim spoke again “Well, it’s certainly worth considering. I feel just as well protected and covered as in my usual black outfits. I’ll find out if the scolars I trust approve of the Mozabite way of covering because I think it is practically mandatory in most places down south. Abdelkader has to like to move as well of course.”
Then Rim parted by hugging Souad in a way to make her for a moment feel how it was to have the face covered by a haik. On her way to her own house Souad was happy because it had been a wonderful day. She felt good in the haik and with the aadjar and thought about wearing this costume in daily life. Walid, her husband, did not earn enough for her to become a housewife and about the only jobs where the haik was acceptable, sometimes even required, was in the tourist industry as guide or hostess. She doubted that her French would be adequate for such jobs; and her English certainly not. Could she follow her own suggestion to Rim herself and move to the South? Well, after today having to wear the haik would not be the thing to stop her.
Four months later Rim and Abdelkader moved south. Through Abdelkader Rim kept mailing about how wonderful it was to live among women all in favour of veiling. She had dropped her black clothing to wear the traditional white clothing, which in former times all city women of North Africa wore. Some of Rim’s enthusiasm for her new life had probably come from the fact that she had got pregnant. Nonetheless the mails from her made Souad often consider if her own support for the traditional clothing once a year should be extended to wear it daily.
When Walid six month later got sacked and found there were several vacant positions in the South matching his skills the decision was easy. They moved to the same town as Rim for them again to meet as often as before.
Rim, who did not like to show her face even to women for more than a minute, had set a fashion in the town by always wearing the aadjar, so when she revealed more than one eye (covered by a pair of sunglasses) indoors at a place with only women present not that much more would show of her face.
Souad took up this new custom immediately. She quickly got used to that women were anonymous in the streets because of showing at most one eye, so she could directly pass Rim or one of her new friends without recognition both ways if one was not accompanied by a child or husband or carried some recognisable belonging like a bag showing outside the haik.
After some months in the town Souad got pregnant as well. She gave birth to a girl just as Rim had. Their girls able to grow up together in a safe peaceful environment just added to their mutual feelings that they would stay here for the rest of their lives. But once a year they went back to Algiers to parcipate in the Belaredj procession in their normal sourthern public clothing with an aadjar on top to both appear as Rim did back then at their first participation.
When their girls got around the age of eight both Souad and Rim got very happy to see they started playing with haiks and aadjars. This ensured these traditional items would be a part of daily life in the next generation as well.