Taking Dustyfeet for a walk here can be an interesting experience. My daughter has been blessed, or cursed, with blonde hair and blue eyes; in this Arabic nation she is very unusual, and sometimes going out with her is like trying to walk down the street with a minor celebrity. Young children are celebrated anyway, but I have it on good authority from a couple of friends with half-Arabic daughters that they don’t get anything like the attention we get.
She gets presents, she gets kisses, she gets photographed. I have totally changed my ideas about women in burkhas, since being here. I imagined them to be serious, sober people, perhaps slightly oppressed by their dominant males, committed to prayer and to demure, calm behaviour as befits a dark figure in hijab. It’s a misconception. Women in burkhas are giggly and flighty and silly. They all have iPhones and they all want to pose for photographs with my little girl. They kiss her (sometimes leaving a red lip print on her cheek), they coo and squeal at her, they give her kitkats (which I confess I usually confiscate and enjoy at my leisure – chocolate makes her high).
Men are a different matter. A cool sporty dude-type goes jogging along the seafront, kicking a ball ahead of him. He sees Dustyfeet, slows down and kicks the ball to her. He waits while she picks it up, contemplates it, and eventually drops it vaguely in his direction – then he kicks it ahead of him again and jogs on. Another man, also a bit of a dude in big sunglasses, but not quite so sporty, stops and asks permission to kiss her.
What does one say to a question like that, out of the blue from a complete stranger? I usually end up saying yes, just as I end up saying yes if someone asks to take a photo, because at least they’re asking permission! More often than not, they take their photos, coo and kiss, shower with sweets, and never so much as a word to me. Dustyfeet, fortunately, is beginning to get tired of this treatment and has started taking matters into her own hands. She has never been phased by the burkhas, but kisses and cuddles have to be on her terms. Yesterday a young lady tried to pose with her, but every time she crouched down at Dustyfeet’s side, Dustyfeet turned her back, sidestepped or simply made a dash for it. It was very funny to watch – they kept trying to get her to stand still but she simply wasn’t having it, and eventually they just took a photo of Dustyfeet on her own.
Sandydad also finds himself surrounded on a regular basis by young ladies in burkhas, all wanting to kiss his little girl. He’d never even be able to speak to them if it wasn’t for Dustyfeet, but in her company, he seems to manage some quite in-depth conversations with Arabic women. The other day, the two of them were walking along our street when a lady who was parking her car noticed that Dustyfeet had a runny nose and offered Sandydad a box of tissues. Then she decided she wanted to show Dustyfeet off to her daughter, so she invited them in. This was an Arabic lady, on her own in the house with a 12-year-old daughter, and she invited an unknown male into her home: somehow, being in the company of a young child makes this okay (which would be completely out of the question if he was on his own). I am constantly amazed at the boundaries she is able to break down, simply by being – even if the boundaries are sometimes my own.