Monday, April 6, 2009

Clothes--What Azeris have in Common with the Man in Black, Johnny Cash

The clothing can be described as Soviet in appearance. Most clothing is all black, with some trim, such as metal studs, and for women, glitter, rhinestones, black vinyl purses and jackets. Clothing also features lots of silver brocade, mirror sequins, and plastic shiny stuff.

As Azerbaijan is a Muslim country, one might assume that modest clothing is worn. It is true that men don’t show their lower legs, chests or upper arms and swimsuits for men have tops. Women don’t wear shorts, but some do wear tight clothing, theatrical makeup and elaborate hairdos.

Women rarely have hair shorter than shoulder length and when going out everyone tends to dress up much more than we do in the U.S. My host mother is a teacher and women teachers always wear skirts—male teachers always wear suits and ties. However, in the house, women wear “house clothing” such as terrycloth pajamas or a smock over pants so they don’t ruin their good clothing. People have very few clothes compared with Americans and may wear the same outfit most of the week. My host sister, who is 16, has one pair of pajamas that she wears when she is at home and has worn them all winter. I think this is because clothing is more expensive here than in the US and since it is mostly black, there is no point in having five black skirts or pairs of pants.

Many men go everywhere in suits, having no casual clothing. My host father hangs around the house in his suit, but does loosen his tie. Azerbaijanis love gold jewelry, but it tends to be in very elaborate settings with many small stones. Women get expensive jewelry at their weddings and many wear the same jewelry every day. Young women enjoy wearing costume jewelry.

Azerbaijan is a good country for an American recovering shopaholic as most Americans would not be tempted by anything they saw in the stores. Besides being more expensive than comparable American goods, the clothing, furniture, jewelry and other goods is just not to our taste.

I have met a few women who wear a hijab, but saw about as many women in a hijab in St. Louis as here. I am getting to know one woman who does wear one. She is the host mother of another Peace Corps worker. She surprised both of us because she did not fit our stereotype of the hijab-wearing woman.

This woman is in her late 40’s and has two daughters in their 20’s. Her family members, like most Azeris consider themselves to be Muslims but do not practice the religion. She had a Koran and met a Jew who gave her a copy of the Torah. She read it and became interested in some of the common characters in the two holy books. After much reading and studying on her own, she decided to become an observant Muslim.

Her husband and family are fine with this, but don’t participate. She is extremely supportive of her daughters and their education and is not pressuring them to marry, as most Azeris do. One of her daughters has no interest in marriage, housework or cooking, has a professional position and an advanced degree. Most Azeri families would not accept a lack of interest in marriage, but this woman is completely supportive.

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