The Woman in Black


The Woman in Black

The cou­ple walked into the restau­rant and sat right behind us. The first thing I noticed was that we had the same shoes, a pair of red rub­ber flip-flop, the kind every­body wear at the beach. Her feet were tan, like mine, and I could see a whiter patch of skin where the san­dals’ strap rested. She had pol­ish on her toe­nail and wore a very nice watch—I left mine in Canada but I love watches. We must have been about the same age.

But while I was wear­ing a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, she had an abaya (a long loose-fitting black tunic) cov­er­ing every­thing but her hands and feet. A full niqāb com­pletely cov­ered her face and only her eyes were vis­i­ble through a tiny slot. For a minute or two, while her hus­band was order­ing the food, I won­dered how she was going to eat any­thing. Would she even eat?

She did, and my ques­tion was answered a few min­utes later when the food was brought. She would take tiny spoon­ful of rice in one hand, quickly lift the bot­tom of the niqāb with the other, and put it back as soon as the food reached her mouth. “No won­der she looks so thin” I cyn­i­cally thought. “I’d be too if I had to eat like that!”

She wasn’t Malaysian—I haven’t seen Mus­lim Malay women wear­ing any­thing else than a sim­ple headscarf—but prob­a­bly from the Gulf States. There were quite a few cou­ples on the beach ear­lier, the men shirt­less and the women in full abaya and niqāb. Talk about a cul­ture shock.

I kept on think­ing about the woman in black. Did she care about what she was wear­ing under the black shape­less tunic? Did she put on body cream to make her skin smooth? Did she have nice clothes under­neath, or just a pair of sweat­pants? Did she care more about the lit­tle skin she was showing—her feet, hands and her eyes—than the rest of her body? Did she want to be thin­ner? Did she obsess over the size of her bum?

I’m not going to pre­tend I under­stand why some Mus­lim women wear this extreme inter­pre­ta­tion of the Islamic dress-code—I don’t. And even in Malaysia, a coun­try where Islam is the offi­cial reli­gion, it looked out-of-place.

Trav­el­ing is not just about soak­ing up the cul­ture of the coun­try you are in—you get to see so much more indi­rectly. In Malaysia, I learned a lit­tle bit about Islam and the cus­toms related to the reli­gion (even though the “woman in black” was quite an extreme exam­ple of it). Again, in both Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia, we walked in Lit­tle India and I indi­rectly, I got a glimpse of the cul­ture. In Thai­land, it was inter­est­ing to see that Rus­sians, Ger­mans and French are as obnox­ious and annoy­ing as the stereo­typ­i­cal Amer­i­can tourist.

Trav­el­ing expose you to the whole world, includ­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures and men­tal­i­ties, some­times way out­side of your com­fort zone.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. It’s nearly as though you had an encounter with a dop­pel­gänger. Don’t you wish you could get the chance to have spo­ken with her? I won­der how hot she gets in that out­fit, too?

    Thanks again for adding this post to the Traveler’s Show & Tell blog car­ni­val over at Men­tal Mosaic: Even Home is a Travel Des­ti­na­tion. Hope to see you there again! :)


    • I wish I had the chance to talk to her, unfor­tu­nately it was pretty bad tim­ing con­sid­er­ing there were a few peo­ple with her. Alone, it would have been less intimidating…

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