Notes from a small island
A weblog by Jonathan Ali

Saturday, December 21, 2002  

Did some more Christmas shopping today, at West Mall, and am quite pleased with my purchases. Only one person left on my gift list, and I know exactly where I'm going to get the gift, and what it will be.

After shopping I had lunch in the food court. While eating (lasagne) I noticed a group of people at the table adjacent to mine. It was, to judge by their clothing, a Muslim group, in fact a family - husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, cousins, what have you. But I looked closer, and noticed just a single man, a rather large fellow with a big shrubby beard, and three women, and assorted children, weaving their way in and around the grown-ups.

It took a moment to process this, during which I realised what I was, undoubtedly, and for the first time in actual life, looking at - a polygynous family. The husband appeared in his mid to late thirties; two of the wives in their late twenties to early thirties. The third seemed not a day older than twenty. She had taken off her chador while eating. She was pretty, with light brown eyes, long brown hair, and endearingly crooked teeth, which showed constantly, as she smiled and chatted animatedly with the other wives. The husband sat in silence.

Two of the children, obviously full sisters and wearing matching long-sleeved electric blue dresses with gold flowers and similarly patterned trousers, clung to the backs of two chairs, stretched out at an angle (the food court chairs are secured to the floor) and tossed their bare heads back and forth. Smudges of polish decorated the nails of their stubby fingers and the toes of their sandalled feet; red mendhi patterns covered the backs of their little hands. A smaller girl sat next to her mother, and a baby boy, blissfully asleep, reposed in a stroller next to his mother, the youngest wife.

As they began preparing themselves to leave the food court, she (the youngest wife) unfurled her chador from around her neck and still chatting away, secured it around her head. She then reached into the folds of her burqa and pulled out a bit of black cloth with a visor-like slit. This she attached to her chador and let fall over her face.

They then collected their things, got up, and left. I finished my meal and left not long after. As I made my way out of the mall I passed the family. Because of the crowd I practically had to squeeze through, and almost brushed against the youngest wife. Our eyes met for an instant. She quickly turned her head, and I walked on, on and out of the mall.

posted by Jonathan | 3:09 PM 0 comments


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