#5 Pictures of Burqas
Bare-breasted African mothers and grinning Southeast Asian villagers with lacquered black teeth are just sooooo 90’s. Today’s discerning Expat Aid Worker will update her or his Facebook page (more on Facebook in later posts) with pictures of women in burqas.
The reason why burqas are so important is that they are exotic, and exotic is pretty much what makes the Expat Aid Work life worth living. Let’s face it: the vast majority of expat aid work is actually just office work. It’s pushing paper, going to meetings, general text-bitchery. It’s an equilibrium of overworkedness, punctuated by occasional terror or possibly hangovers. But if he or she can somehow feel as if the location is exotic, the Expat Aid Worker can feel a sense of harmony with the universe. More importantly, she or he will have exotic pictures to show. And nothing says “exotic” to the Expat Aid Worker’s friends back home quite like a picture of a woman, covered head-to-toe in black or light blue.
One of the first things Expat Aid Workers learn in orientation to a post in a place that has lots of mosques is, “don’t photograph the women.” And that prohibition plus the aforementioned exotic factor, combine to mean that pretty much from that moment on the Holy Grail for the Expat Aid Worker during the trip/deployment/posting will be some awesome pictures of burqas. (And by the way, let’s not get all nit-picky about taxonomy or semantics or what whatever they’re wearing on their heads is actually called. You say “hijab“; We say “burqa”…)
There are number of ways to get those pictures of burqas. You can try actually making friends with local people, some of whom may themselves wear burqas (or hijabs or whatever it’s called…), and some of whom may actually just allow you to photograph them. The obvious problem with this strategy is that it can be time-consuming and may require extended periods without the shelter and support of your driver. Which means that most Expat Aid Workers will be stuck trying to take telephoto shots through the window of a moving car, or holding their cameras down low and taking pictures while pretending to look elsewhere, or in some other way taking pictures of burqa-clad women on the sly.
Just remember to turn off the flash if you do this. And for goodness sake, don’t go trying this at home where you could be mistaken for a pervert or criminal for taking women’s pictures without their permission.