Saturday, March 7, 2009

Random Inflammatory Thoughts on a Tiny Bus

Given that Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad and myself still live out in the Middle of Nowhere, we find ourselves on buses far more often than we would normally like. The particular breed of bus which services the bustling metropolis of Izmit is known as a dolmuş. This is a rather à propos name as dolmuş means "stuffed" in Turkish and these mini buses - veritable stuffed grape leaves on wheels - are often packed to the rafters.

Being a seemingly polite country, it is usual for seats to be offered to the elderly, the pregnant and those generally encumbered with children and shopping bags. Today, I was one of those so encumbered - laden with grocery bags, I took the last available seat as Mr. This Cat's (Not) Abroad stood in the aisle.

About 20 minutes into our trip home to the Middle of Nowhere, a gaggle of niqab-ensconced Covered Women boarded the bus, which at that point was standing room only. With only their noses and eyes visible, they quickly scanned our stuffed grape leaf of a bus for available seats. Immediately three people hopped up and offered their seats, leaving two women standing. I looked at Mr. this Cat's (Not) Abroad (who was still standing) and said, they're not getting my seat. I had bags. Granted, manoeuvering about in their niqabs doesn't appear to be a terribly easy feat, but their choice in dress shouldn't have impeded their standing.

And then I got a better look at them. Four of them were young - under 30 young. The eldest, who had scored a seat from a dolmuş-riding Good Samaritan, was certainly under 40. Certainly younger than I. No wrinkles - no crow's feet. I look at these things. I am vain. Why should I give her my seat? Why did anyone on the bus relinquish their seats? They were all young enough to be standing, Had they been wearing dresses - with or without headscarves - no one would have offered them a seat.

And that annoyed me. A lot.

The Covered Woman has become a hot button issue in Turkey - a country which is predominately Muslim although not a Muslim country - these last few years. To say that it isn't political would be naive at best and dishonest at worst. The founder of modern Turkey, the secularist Kamal Ataturk disapproved of Covered Women but didn't legislate against covering. Having said that, many women willingly abandoned the practice as Turkey became more progressive.

A military coup in 1980 ushered in a ban on headscarves in universities which was enforced until last year when the ban was lifted. Some see it as a step backwards; others as an affirmation of women's rights; while Islamicists praise it as a return to conservative Islam. Covered Women make me sad but I have already squawked about this.

I'm not suggesting that the three individuals who offered their seats to these Covered Women did so in support of any political agenda; after all, of the three dolmuş-riding Good Samaritans, two were young Uncovered Women. Nor am I saying that the gaggle of niqab-ensconced Covered Women dressed so for political reasons. What really annoyed me was the special treatment they received. For a choice in clothing that they made.

That's all.


Snowflake said...

Are we getting a little testy?

This Cat's Abroad said...

Hey, at least I got my seat!