Saturday, 6 December 2008

Baghdad Street

'Baghdad St' is the irreverent nickname of a street I'd be more likely to refer to as 'Burqa Boulevard'.

My latest adventure down it came as a result of what is usually one of the highlights of my London visits: lunch with a friend who's a priest in the capital. As always, we talked and laughed our way through our lunch - and thanks to him, I discovered that I DO like anchovies on my pizza.

After a banoffee pie with ice cream (me) and a tiramisu (him), we discussed the possibilities. He needed to be at hospital for 3pm and I was free as a bird. We decided to walk to where he needed to be, and with a wicked grin, he asked me if I wanted to walk down 'Baghdad St' and count burqas.

How could I say 'no'?

"It's not the prettiest walk," he said, offering me a way out. "That would be by the canal."

"Oh, but this is by far the most culturally interesting," I said. "Just let me know when we're coming to it and I'll let my hair down."

As I was wearing a lacy, lowcut camisole - every heterosexual male knew the colour of the bra beneath it - under a cardigan, I left my coat open despite the cold. This was going to be good.

I made one crucial error - I forgot that when we met, I had been mock horrified at the fact that he was wearing a collar for lunch with a good friend, and he had taken it off. Had I remembered, I'd have had him slip it back in before we turned the corner.

"Ok, here it is," he said under his breath. Out came the clip, I shook out my hair, and we turned into a street that could have been anywhere from the West Bank to Lahore.

"Right," he said, "this is a bit disappointing. Headscarves, but no full burqa yet. Surprising., 1."

"Ok," I said. "I'm going to count the 'you-betrayed-your-religion-bitch' disapproving looks. None yet. Disappointing."

He continued burqa counting. "2, 3..."

Helpfully I added, "4..."

"Nope, not a full one. It doesn't count."

I laughed, as we both did for the full three blocks of the market.

"Mmmmm. Cardamom. INCENSE."

"That's where you and I are different," said he, ruefully.

"OOOOOO!" I said. "YES! Disapproving look 1, and from a man. Ok, hon, here's what I'm going to do - I'm going to grab your sleeve so that it looks like we're together, which makes it more of a 'bitch betraying her culture', since you're white."

"That's absolutely fine," he grinned. So I did. "6...7...have you noticed the mix," he asked, referring to the heavy Asian population with the occasional older, white face.

"Ok, that was an 'I fancy you' look, so we're 1-1 now. Come on, where are those 'bitch' looks, I'm getting really disappointed. Yes, I had."

He burst out laughing and turned towards me. "Look behind you, fabulous - that full burqa, and she's using her wheelchair for the shopping. Yes, it's the Asian population mixed with the older Irish population, who were here first."

I nearly fell over in a fit of the giggles. "OOH, second disapproving look, from a woman. You know, I'm tempted to stop at the stalls where the men have shaved their heads and are wearing the prayer caps and just stand there for a little while."


"14...OOO, check that one out, that's good."

And as I was looking to my right, past him, I got the grandfather of all looks. An older man standing behind his table was staring at me, his face contorted in an expression of mingled rage and desire - the "I-hate-you-traitor-bitch-whore-but-I'd-shag-a-rebel-like-you-given-half-a-chance" look - one I am all too familiar with. I tilted my chin up and stared back briefly, then turned my attention forward as we moved on.

By the end, he had counted 25+ burqas and I had at least 4 disapproving looks (that last one could have counted as two) - all in all, a productive outing.

Then as we turned towards the hospital, up came the mother of all burqas, similar to the one I'd worn when I convinced my cousin Amna to go out to the shops in Okara with me during a visit to Pakistan when I was 9.

As we turned, discussing one last stop before he became official again, I checked to see if he'd been wearing his collar, and we expressed regret that he hadn't been. Up came another one, but the headpiece was makeshift and he said it best as he shook his head and declared,

"Poor standard."

I agreed, then we nipped off for a particularly Western end to our visit.

Black coffee (him) and hot chocolate (me).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Disapproving looks? Well, really!

But then I suppose if I wore my sexuality on my sleeve (as opposed to a bra, which I would not wear as I am neither female nor TV) I would derive at least some pleasure from how many disapproving looks I'd get - although a lynching for a gay man is yet to happen in Baghdad Street...come to think of it, there are plenty of outrageous possibilities to shock people there. However, you have done it in style, and I'd end up somewhat different, still seeking approval or lascivious looks. I shan't say which I really prefer...!