Why I like Islamic dress
Some people have asked about what I thought about the lot of women in Sudan. Actually, with a ten day visit, it is hard to tell. There MAY not be a direct relationship between what you see as a tourist and what you see if you live there. But may be not. The daughter is currently living in Dilling (a town in the Nuba mountains) and I will be able to report in due course, via her.
I can, however, give a provisional verdict on Islamic dress. I know that Laura Bush got wound up about the use of nail varnish in Afghanistan (as if nail varnish were a human rights issue). But, after a few days, I felt very at home in Sudan.
Women don't have to cover up totally. There are some who wear burkas, most simply wear long skirts and long sleeves. This was the costume I adopted -- not much flesh exposed, but no aggressive concealment. It only took a day before I rather relished the democracy(and the colour coded fun) of this kind of attire. It was great for a 54 year old woman like me, and in fact a relief not to have to walk through the streets of Khartoum, confronted (as you are in Cambridge) with posses of 16 year old size 8s, displaying their thighs and belly buttons (pierced).
It took about a week before I realised that I had entirely internalised this kind of dress. Walking by the Nile one day, I saw a young woman, on her own, dressed in a shortish skirt and short sleeves. "Is she a prostitute", I whispered to the daughter, in the embarrassing way that mothers have. "No", she insisted, "She's a Christian".
It was instantly clear enough how our teenagers must appear to a cultural (even in not religiously devout) Muslim.
So it was funny to find out that I had a tiny feature in this month's Vogue UK -- as one of a list of 30 "inspirational women" of 2009. (I'm confessing to this on a "please dont spread this around" basis!)
The next thought was to regret that the Vogue 'rebranding' had not taken place. In terms of best dressed academics (not a fashionable crew, by and large) I must remain well in the lowest quartile of sartorial style. I liked the picture they had used of me in my college room, but had a slight hankering after one of those model images with the clothes lent by Prada and the gold by Aspreys. Where was the full model treatment?
Then I remembered how much I had enjoyed the cover-up routine of Sudan -- and put Vogue and my fantasies back in my pocket. No Prada for me.