Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Wajdja: An Opening of Eyes

Yesterday the TV was on and after a movie my husband had watched another came on.  Something about it caught my eye so I decided to keep watching while working on something else, and eventually the film caught my whole mind and heart. 

It was Wadjda, the first film ever from Saudi Arabia.  It is a miracle, since it is a film from S.A. about women and their world, and it is so honest about their lives but at the same time wholesome and heartfelt.  I thoroughly recommend it.  I started because I thought it might give me insight into the lives of the English as Second Language students I work with, half of whom are Muslim women from Iraq or Sudan. It did, but it also gave me an insight into humanity in general and my own womanhood.

Wadjda is a ten-year old girl who lives with her mother in a very nice home.  I wasn’t sure at the beginning what country it was (other than Arabic speaking) but it was clear they were affluent.  As the movie opens, they are at home, where they are free to gossip on the phone, cook, kid around, wear whatever they like, take off the hijab, listen to Western music, fuss, and plot.  Wadjdah is more boy than girl; she is obsessed with money and finds schemes to make it for the things she wants. 

Then they go into the outside world, in full, black abiyyahs.  A driver picks them up to go to school and to work.  The women are dependent on this driver, who can be a tyrant but is apparently afraid of the authorities because of immigration status.  Wadjda attends a girls’ school that is completed secluded in the middle of a populated area.  Within the school, again, the teachers and administrators wear normal clothes, but the girls are warned not to be seen by the workmen down the street or to let the men hear their voices. 

The word “conservative” does not describe this existence.  Fear is what described it to me, which is why it’s a miracle the movie came from Saudi Arabia. The women are completely at the mercy of the men in their lives, as seen most poignantly in Wadjda’s mother’s life.  She cannot have any more children, especially not a boy, and her husband is looking for another wife, even though he says he loves Wadjdah’s mother.  The “will-he-won’t-he” take a second wife is one of the plotlines of the story.

The main plotline is that Wadjda wants a bicycle so she  can be free and race her friend, a boy that soon she will not be able to even speak to.  Impending puberty looms ahead of her, but she’s not ready for it, though she is wiser than her elders, sassy, a little rude, not afraid to intimidate others, willing to do anything legal to get the money, and apparently a little skeptical about the faith.  She rolls her eyes at her mother like any young girl, back talks her, blames her for her father’s absence, acts like a brat sometimes.  The problem is, girls are not supposed to ride bicycles. (This is not explained except it might hurt their insides for child-bearing, or show their bodies, or encourage freedom?) Her magnum opus is to enter a recitation contest for the Q’uran so she can win a big money prize and get her beloved bike.  Does she? 

That’s enough.  Watch it.  I read that it won awards.  It should have. The end made me sad, happy, angry that women are treated so by men, appalled at Islam (the abbiyahs are black and heavy and miserably hot, the girls who have gone through puberty are told they cannot touch the Q’uran with their bare hands, only with a tissue or gloves).  It made me far more compassionate and concerned for my students of Islamic background. 

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