Green, purple, and gold. Decorated masks, elaborate costumes, lively parties, fragrant food. All of these are commonly associated with the holiday Mardi Gras; in French meaning “Fat Tuesday”.
Mardi Gras is celebrated in various countries around the world, New Orleans, Louisiana hosting one of the most popular celebrations, along with Venice, Italy and Nice, France. While this is the case, many do not know where Mardi Gras originated, or what the celebrations are meant for. Each year, millions gather the day before “Ash Wednesday,” (usually in the month of February) counting down 40 days until Easter. Generally, those who religiously practice Lent indulge in their favorite activities and foods before giving them up for the fasting of Lent.
The majority of Americans think of New Orleans when they hear Mardi Gras, but this celebration was influenced by Carnival, brought over by the French. In France, “carnival” developed from the Italian word “carne levare” meaning to remove meat. This is because traditionally, practicing Catholics and Anglicans do not eat meat once Lent begins, along with flavorful foods that have sugar, eggs, dairy products, and fat.
Growing up in Saudi Arabia, an experience of immeasurable impact, has decidedly influenced the person I am today. Having lived there for thirteen years, I have faced a lot and grown immune to some truths; particularly, the seemingly harsh customs and the repression women are forced to suffer. During the former part of my childhood, I hadn’t recognized the wrong in it; I studied in an American school, a bubble that the ultra-conservative Islamic influences left untouched. Inside school, I grew up as an average American teenager; I could wear whatever I wanted, express my views freely and never had to worry about any form of subjugation. However, any activity that required me to leave the school grounds and go into public meant donning the mandatory black graduation cloak-like piece of apparel known as the abaya, as well as an optional head-covering. I might add that the Saudi heat is quite intense, and wearing this garment really increases bodily discomfort. Just imagine having every drop of sweat stick awkwardly to your skin.
Soon enough, I grew sick of wearing the abaya, even for short trips to nearby grocery stores. Eventually, I got even more annoyed at how non-Muslim women were also forced to adhere to this custom, even though they didn’t even believe in the tradition. Until about fifteen, I tolerated this, but around 16, that rebellious teenage spirit started to kick in. I started to leave my abaya more open and let my headscarf slip back when I went out in the public world. It earned disapproval, even from my own parents, who just wanted to avoid trouble. But I had had enough. When most women in other parts of the world had the freedom to do as they pleased, why shouldn’t Saudi women have the same? Why do they deserve less? Also, the fact that Saudi women aren’t allowed to drive and hold jobs in the government amplified my anger. It was injustice.
“Women are just as capable as men,” I voiced to one of my conservative Muslim friends, “Why are they seen as inferior? Why do they even bother wearing hijabs (head covers)?” I couldn’t comprehend why this particular friend bothered wearing the hijab either and voiced my disapproval. Continue reading An Unexpected Lesson→
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