Mar. 25, 2008

Re-Thinking Syria: Clothing

When I was flipping through my Lonely Planet book for the Middle East, I came across a passage that essentially read: “Take a look around – almost all men in Syria wear pants, regardless of the weather.” When I began thinking about the Syrians I had seen on the street, I realized that the majority wear not only pants (rather than the shorts that we Canadians sport once the thermometer hits a balmy nineteen degrees and the sun shines brightly again) but also usually have long sleeves on. I had been considering taking shorts to wear when visiting Palmyra, which is in the middle of the Syrian desert, but I decided to stick to shorts after re-reading this passage.

Even after being in Syria for two weeks and seeing otherwise, two general stereotypes still come to mind when I first consider what people wear in this country: dusty clothing and women wearing the hejab. If I think about pictures that I have seen from the Middle East, the people photographed often look like they spent their morning rolling in dust. The hejab, a scarf worn by many Muslim women, is well-known to many Canadians thanks to the coverage that it gets in the media.

I hope it is not too surprising to read that Syrian clothing reflects the diversity of ethnicity, religion, and wealth that exists within the country. While it is true that in most neighbourhoods of Aleppo, one can hardly walk two blocks without seeing a woman who is wearing black and fully covered from head to toe, one is far more likely to encounter Muslim women wearing the hejab along with a long dress and jacket. When I visit the Armenian quarter of Aleppo, I come across Western hairstyles, make-up, and clothing. When considering the men of Aleppo, the vast majority are wearing Western-style clothing. Jeans and long-sleeve shirts, sweaters, or blazers are the norm for both Muslim and Christian men. There are some older men who I have seen wearing full-length robes, but these have been made to match the coats the men are wearing, and to my eyes go together as naturally as the jacket and pants of a suit in Canada. Bedouin men wearing the kufeyya are essentially the only people sporting any sort of headwear, so I know that I will probably stick out as a tourist whenever I wear a hat!

The quality of clothing varies among people as well. Some people are wearing clothes that are faded, worn, or look slightly out of date, while others are clothed in fine fabrics with bright colours, brand names, and intricate designs. I have seen a number of people who do look… well… dusty, but to be perfectly honest, this is a dusty city! Even after a rainfall there is a haze from both the pollution and dust in the air, and people cannot hang their clothes to dry outside because of the layer of dust that will accumulate over the course of a sunny, windy afternoon!

I usually wear pants and a short-sleeve button-up shirt to school, but I have been switching into shorts at home if I know that I am not going out again in the evening. I cannot say that I particularly enjoy walking around wearing pants when the sun is shining and feels like 25°C outside, but suppose one would get used to the habit after suffering through a summer here! Thank goodness I am here in the spring!!