Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Not What I Meant by “Ladies’ Room”

There was something I wanted to show you all today, but at the last minute, I had another attack of self-consciousness and didn’t take a picture. I don’t think I’m being neurotic this time, though.

I was on Seventh Street and I passed a small mosque with beautiful calligraphy on the outside. What really caught my attention, though, was that there were two entrances, one for men and the other for women. It occurred to me that I’ve never seen this arrangement in a non-restroom situation. And yes, I have seen mosques before; I’d just never noticed dual entrances. (I did once go into a mosque in western China; I hope I didn’t do anything inappropriate.)

This evening I went back to take a picture. There was a man arriving at the same time, clearly there to worship, and suddenly I felt kind of like a hayseed and kind of like a very bad spy taking a picture. So no photo today.


pohanginapete said...

Photographing people usually requires a great deal of sensitivity; photographing the places where people express their deepest beliefs also requires great sensitivity; and photographing people in those places... well... you get the idea. Glad to hear you refrained from photographing on that occasion, Nicole.

Of course, the obvious approach would be to find someone with the authority to give you the go-ahead, and then to ask. But even that can feel like intruding. My own feeling is that in those circumstances, a "right" approach (in the buddhist sense, I suppose) would be to ask if someone would show you around and explain something of the significance of various features — that kind of thing — and leave the photography until either a return visit or at least until your guide understands that you respect the beliefs (not meaning you have to adopt or agree with them).

I've occasionally been in similar situations overseas. I remember in Jamnagar we were allowed one photograph of a magnificent mosque. It's not the photo that's stayed with me, though — it's the smiles and greetings from a couple of the women and the devotion of those worshipping within.

Nicole said...

I was glad that guy walked by when he did; it reminded me that the mosque is a real, sacred place, not a tourist attraction. I agree that it's important to remember the difference!

I'm glad I came to my senses, too.