I got my membership to the Intercontinental Hotel beach in Aqaba to avoid the crowds of raucous young men in tightie-whities on the public beach, where women swim in full hijab if they swim at all. It’s not a place to be seen in a bikini, but the private hotel beaches are full of foreigners and upper-class Jordanians who are less likely to ogle (or at least more discreet about it).
Upper-class doesn’t necessarily mean bikinis, though. Today there was a family on the beach in full hijab, and one young woman in niqab covering everything but her eyes. When they first came on the beach, I wondered why they would possibly want to pay the incredibly high price to sit on a beach in full hijab. Their Lebanese accents were a partial explanation, suggesting that they were staying at the hotel on holiday. Then the women and girls headed for the water.
The girls, about 7 and 10 years old, went in about waist deep, giggling and protesting, and then headed back to the beach. I figured the women would do the same, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Even the grandmother, ungainly on land and wearing the most layers of clothing, went right on in and got thoroughly wet up to her neck. Most unexpectedly for me, the girl in full niqab started swimming the crawl back and forth, parallel to the beach, clearly delighted by and used to swimming despite her layers of black dress and veils.
I so thoroughly enjoyed watching them enjoy themselves in the water that I could barely concentrate on my book for grinning. Not wanting to stare like some ignorant foreigner, nonetheless I kept finding myself watching. I almost wished I had a camera, though perhaps it would have been equally culturally insensitive to photograph a family that was trying so hard to be both Islamicly modest and secularly normal.