Life in a Muslim country

I get woken up at 4:30 in the morning… was it too much coffee or a bad dream? No, it is my neighbour’s door slamming below my window as he heads out to pray at the mosque nearby. I don’t bother to go back to sleep as he will be back again in just fifteen minutes, and will slam the door again.

Everyone is up and about early, getting off to work before 8 am. The school bus picks up the kids at 7.30 am. We always have a parent on the bus, as we live in a country where there is an ever-present risk of the unexpected.

If I go on the bus, I need to be dressed in very conservative, long clothes, and it is hot. My scarf slips off my head, and I somehow need to keep it readjusted without starting all over again. Thankfully there is no safety belt – that would just cause it to slip off more. But showing a bit of hair is okay, as I want to emphasise I am not a Muslim.

I’m thirsty: the rush of the morning meant I couldn’t wait for my hot coffee to cool. I have a muffin in my bag, and water. But because I am a woman, it would be very shameful for the driver if I was gulping water or nibbling on the muffin as we drive around. So I will wait the half hour or so in the heat until I get to school to drink and eat the rest of my breakfast.

There are many restrictions on women, but after a couple of years you don’t notice your invisibility attempts. The men still seem to shout out at any person walking down the street, though. Reminds me of how workmen used to wolf whistle back in New Zealand.

The kids come home at 1:30pm for lunch – the lunch-time prayer was a good hour before this. Their school day has finished. Everything goes quiet as most people rest or sleep during the hottest part of the day.

You know when the siesta has finished, another loud call of the mosque… who needs a watch? We slowly get busy again, time for visiting the neighbours and catching up with the family news. Again, I will dress conservatively with long sleeves, long skirt or trousers. Really I should be in the black covering because then I can wear what I like underneath. My girlfriends are dressed “to the nines” with makeup and jewellery and brightly coloured clothing. Because I walked to their house I couldn’t wear make-up… I don’t wear the face covering. And my white skin with make-up might give the local guys the idea that I am someone from “Hollywood” (the best and the worst).

My ‘alarm clock’ goes off again at 6pm-ish… the next mosque call. Told you I don’t need a watch. It is dark now and time to go home. I need to feed the kids so they can go off to bed for the early start tomorrow.

But we might get a visit after the last mosque call of the day from a local “believing” family – their kids are hopeful that they will have some playmates for soccer outside in our courtyard. I have to explain regretfully to them why my kids can’t play… they are asleep!

It is lovely to sit down with the family and chat. I kiss the woman on the cheek and hold her hand, and my husband gives a similar kiss to the man, and then shakes his hand. I must quickly go and make a sweet tea with some type of snack. I don’t ask them what they want… I just put it in front of them.

They will leave about 10pm. We will drive them home in our car as all the public transport has stopped. The area around us is silent. The shops closed at 9pm, although we live in a large village of over 500,000 people, but I think this is the way it has been done for centuries.

Living in a Muslim country affects our lives in many different ways. Each of my day’s activities and the way I go about each activity are guided by the surrounding religion and culture. They are so richly intertwined it is hard to know if anything is not touched by Islam’s reach.