I arrived in Oman with one medium suitcase and one small enough to be a carry-on, though I did check it to make traveling easier. In other words, I didn’t bring much considering I will be living here for a year. I basically just brought clothes and a few other random items such as some of my CELTA teaching materials I got while in Vietnam, my computer, and my iPad. Looking back, I probably should have brought more stuff from “home” – those little things that remind you of a fun time, an object that feels good in your hands, something beautiful to look at. I brought nothing of the sort, considering it too much extra weight. Thus, the apartment is pretty void of any personal items (from either of us, I may add).
But I do have my clothes. It’s not as though my wardrobe is extensive. In fact, here it is with the exception of what I was wearing at the time (underwear and socks are in the drawers, but that’s it).
For school, I need to wear skirts below the knee or slacks, plus a shirt that goes to, and ideally covers, the elbows. Thanks to Ross and Marshalls in the US, I bought three maxi skirts, a pair of black pants, a black t-shirt, and a long bright flowy dress that I used as a top for just over $100 – no sense in spending a lot of money on stuff I am only going to wear for a year. I splurged on three pairs of quality sandals. My travels from last year got me a bamboo fabric top and vintage necklace from Seattle, two funky necklaces and a dress (that I wear as a tunic) from local designers in Toronto, and a pair of grey silk pants from Vietnam. And thanks to my dear friend Abby and a bottle of red wine, I combed through my wardrobe that still lay in boxes from the year before to put together the rest of my outfits. I have four pairs of earrings as well.
Each day, I end up looking sort of like I stepped out of a Chico’s catalog and/or an overly cheery kindergarten teacher. No offense to people who identify with either category, but to be honest, the look I sport here is just not me. Because of my shape and (lack of) height, I tend to lean toward wearing lower-cut shirts and shorter skirts in the US so I don’t look so…frumpy. It’s also difficult to find tops that fit but aren’t too tight given my large chest. But, given the culture here, I do what I can. The three scarves I brought (one from Mexico that I got at a friend’s wedding, one from Cambodia, and one from my mother one Christmas) provide extra covering and modesty if I need it.
Before I came here, I was very aware of how much my clothes and overall sense of style helped me feel good/confident/sexy, but wasn’t as appreciative of that fact until it was taken away from me. It’s hard to look good, and therefore feel good, when you have to wear stuff that just doesn’t fit your body or complement your shape. It downright sucks, actually. I’ve lost a big part of my identity and a little bit of confidence as well (Confession: I was a huge What Not to Wear fan when that show was on TV). I like most of the clothes I have here – with the exception of these damn maxi skirts – but not in the combinations in which I wear them. I feel a bit lost. So close, but yet so far.
At the same time, I am thankful that I don’t have to wear an abaya or even cover my head. And, while unflattering, the maxi skirts are comfortable.
There are several American and European clothing stores here in the larger shopping malls and they all sport the typical more Western fashion style of short skirts and revealing tops – there’s even a Forever 21 here, and thank goddess there’s an H&M! It’s weird to think that women wear these clothes underneath the extensive cover they wear in public: a part of their identities that they keep private while living here. I’m sure it’s not the only one.