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Published: February 13th 2006
The girls here don't let the headscarf cramp their style.
“Where are you from?” “How old are you?” “Are you married”
That is the exact order of questions when you meet an Acehnese person. The last question is the only one I have a slight problem with. It’s not asked in a sleezy, pickup kind of way, just part of normal conversation. They probably assume most people my age (33), would answer “Yes, I am married,” and the conversation would pleasantly carry on. But in my case, the answer is: “Not yet,” (a simple “No, I’m not married,” elicits strange and worried glances). Lucky for them, I don’t know enough vocabulary to explain that I don’t think the whole point of life has to be to get married and have children.
But in Aceh, that seems to be exactly the point of life, and dating in this traditional Muslim society has its own peculiarities. Under Shari’a law, unmarried men and women are forbidden to “be alone in the dark.” There are no movie theatres or bars or clubs, so the closest thing to a date destination are places like the popular juice cafes…until three of them “mysteriously” burned down last year. Yet despite such challenges, young people find a
This beach is literally packed on weekend nights with young people hanging out, swimming, guitar circles and eating hot corn from the vendors.
way to get together, as young people always do. The beach at sunset is thronged by young girls and guys cruising on motorbikes. Couples meet up for an early dinner or hang out together with friends. It all appears to be quite innocent, and it probably is because the social pressure of being a good girl are immense. Young women are prized for being being feminine, respectful and religious. Honorable qualities that ensure you don't see many out after dark or lingering too long in the coffee shops. The boys are out, presumably, being boys. This doesn't change after marriage either.
Basically, the men have a good thing going here and they know it. I hang out with my guy friends for hours at coffee shops (despite the fact that i'm a woman, as a foreigner, i'm an "honorary man"), while they chuckle and say their wives are at home because they don't like coffee. But there are signs that this double-standard is weakening, and i dare say that the influx of foreigners may hasten this. The international aid agencies have employed many of these young, educated and ambitious women and some are choosing to continue to work even
Ulee Karing Coffee Shop
Here's a pic from the coffee shop I go to each week. Interesting conversations, smokes and coffee. No girls though. This would be ideal...if I we're single.
after marriage. At the beach, one or two smiling girls often join me in the water when they see me swimming. And if you look closely, you'll notice that they may be wearing a headscarf, but they're also wearing tight-fitting jeans and listening to Shakira. Shari'a have responded by putting up billboards reminding everyone of the dress code. But if you haven to put up billboards to remind people, well, what's that saying about a horse and a barn?
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