Sahrawi Snapshot in the Sahara

A Sahrawi woman takes a picture with her mobile phone during the 35th anniversary celebrations of their independence movement for Western Sahara from Morocco, in Tifariti, southwestern Algeria February 27, 2011. (REUTERS/Juan Medina)


    1. Same way we know you’re a troll. Other possibilities exist, but we make a reasonable assumptions on the basis of numerous superficial characteristics.

    2. “Um, how do they know it’s a woman?”

      It’s not! She’s a NINJA! And ninjas are beyond gender.

      When studying in Cairo for a few years about a decade ago, a few Egyptian friends used to crack jokes and call the occasional woman dressed from head to toe, in all black shrouds, and even gloves, despite the average 110 degree F temperatures in the summertime: “ninjas.” My Cairean friends took an Islamic Ottoman Turkish invention, not indigenous to Arab culture, the niqab (face-veil), and through humor, inadvertently added an empowering filter for viewing an extreme (and subjugating?) interpretation of female modesty. Because, you know, “…the fires of hell are hotter than [Cairo summers].” – a quote from the fantastic documentary film, Four Women of Egypt.

      Humor aside, I could see how from a Western/Orientalist and/or layperson’s “security” perspective, being completely submerged in cloth from head to toe could put gender into question. So, I’m not too sure if this is really a troll question, as others have noted?

      However, while camping out in various and remote parts of the Egyptian Western Desert, including the Siwa Oasis only a hour or two from Libya’s border, about 14 hours away from Cairo, I remember feeling a sudden increase in self-awareness of my female gender. There was very little presence of women in the public sphere and, if so, they were completely covered from head to toe, including loss of vision from their beautiful/colorful red/orange/yellow embroidered flowers on sky-blue and white striped cotton head/face veils. “The Siwa veil.” This necessitated the women having to be driven around the dusty dirt roads of the small remote village, sitting 2-4 women at a time, in a wooden donkey-driven cart with an 8-year-old as the donkey cart driver. Coming from more “liberal” Cairo, and then California before that, it tripped me out how the restriction, if not the dependency regarding female freedom of mobility came into question. – And my heart-rate increased, as I stood there suddenly acutely aware, that my travel/social/familial independence and revealing of my hair and face was considered, “A Western Ho.” My half-Egypgtian/half-German girlfriend camping with me at the time, had a similar reaction to mine in that extreme context regarding the control of female sexuality. Her heartrate had also increased. At least in Cairo, there are tons of women in the public sphere, some secular, most not.

      Sorry for the tangent.

  1. The same way we in western cultures “know” someone wearing a dress and high heels is a woman. It still ends up being wrong sometimes, even with the face and other body parts easly seen.

    Also; troll.

  2. You can clearly see a good part of her forehead. There is some wrist going on also.

    Total decency fail.

    1. “You can clearly see a good part of her forehead. There is some wrist going on also.

      Total decency fail.”

      Christ, what an asshole.

    2. I’d like to see you walking around a desert, with sand blown everywhere by incessant winds and the air reaching incredibly high temperatures.
      Maybe you’d start covering your body as much as possible, in order to protect it from the sun; then you’d probably wear a scarf or two, to avoid getting sand in your mouth and nose, and to protect your head from (literally) cooking your brain; and you’d certainly wear sunglasses, wouldn’t you?

      (Somebody should totally film a remake of Lawrence of Arabia, then maybe some people would get a little less ignorant.)

        1. Here’s a pic of a man from the same tribe:

          Just sayin’…

          It really does make sense to dress like this in the desert. And, surprisingly to people from more humid climes, you feel cooler, not hotter, when covered in such a dry climate. Sweat evaporates instantly.

          The problem is when it becomes tradition and religion, and people lose their ability to adapt. To force people to wear clothes suitable for the desert in non-desert locations for faux reasons of morality is just as foolish as the British insisting on wearing wool uniforms in the Caribbean because that was what was “proper” and “decent.”

  3. I couldn’t live in a country like that. First, I’d die of heat stroke. And if I didn’t I’d be killed for carrying a gun instead of wearing a shroud. Seems like a gun would protect your modesty better than a piece of cloth.

  4. That’s how I’d be dressed if I went to Burning Man. Except with less skin showing.

    Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.
    The Japanese don’t care to, the Chinese wouldn’t dare to,
    Hindus and Argentines sleep firmly from twelve to one,
    But Englishmen detest a siesta,
    In the Philippines there are lovely screens,
    to protect you from the glare,
    In the Malay states there are hats like plates,
    which the Britishers won’t wear,
    At twelve noon the natives swoon, and
    no further work is done –
    But Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

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