Here's the evolution. I arrived in the UAE almost 18 months ago armed with a series of sweaters, wraps and T-shirts. I would be culturally aware; sensitive to the religious differences here. I wore them, all through last summer's sweltering summer. If I was going to the gym, I'd put a T-shirt over my workout top. If I was wearing a nice halter dress out for dinner, I'd carry a wrap and put it on while in the street. I looked at the other girls in the malls, in Starbucks, wearing strapless dresses and bikini tops with flimsy halters over them and wondered what they were thinking.
Some time over the last year I became less diligent. Much less diligent. Part of it, I think, was chafing a bit at the way it is here. Why can't I just show my shoulders, I would think. It bred a certain defiance. And so I started to forgo the sweater, the T-shirt, the wrap, more so as the weather heated up. I'd nip to my gym a couple of minutes from my apartment, uncovered. I'd walk to work in a sundress, my sweater tucked into my handbag. I'd go out on a Thursday or Friday night, hailing a cab in a tank top and skirt. I'd notice the stares, but they didn't really bother me. Plus I swear I never have to wait long for a taxi that way. (And when a hoard of men would gawk at me at whatever hotel I got out at, I would just pretend I was famous)
But then one night a couple of weeks ago, I ducked out in the evening for an appointment in a sundress. Just a sundress. I was hot and tired and didn't feel like putting on my sweater, so I didn't.
As I got on the elevator at my destination, a building in the old fish market area, two men turned their backs and faced the rear of the elevator. Fine, I thought. A little bit weird.
I didn't immediately start covering my shoulders. But the memory of them having to turn round for reasons I still can't fully understand weighed heavily. So I am covering them again - mostly. It's pretty much always been the right thing to do, I just forgot that for a little while.