For women without their own personal drivers, the compound shopping bus becomes their lifeline. Lifeline to the outside world. It is through the shopping bus that acquaintances are made, which sometimes becomes friendship, where gossip is shared, and spread as well, where grief is sometimes shared as well.
I first met Ella on the bus. It was her second day, she said she needed to buy an abaya. I didn't really need to get anything but had hopped on the bus to grasp the oppurtunity to go out and venture. Its unsafe to walk and shop alone in this country. The men automatically think you're loose or something. Or that they can try something on you. These men need to have their heads checked but thats just the way it is here. So I offered to accompany her to buy her abaya. That was how we got acquainted and then we became friends.
If you're wandering its not quite a public bus. No women ride on public buses here, its unheard of. Women either take private buses (those run by their school or compounds) or limousines. Not the stretched variety, these limousines are just unmarked private cars which some women used, normally driven by a driver they trust, either run by the compound or introduced to them by a friend.
The mood on the bus was rather depressed yesterday. Bella who had just came back from a two months holiday in Rome was feeling the difference in lifestyle too much. She feels encaged. She said, "You know as women in this country we have no rights, no freedom. We cannot be seen or heard. We are treated worst than animals, even my cat has more freedom than I do. My cat can walk around anywhere it wants without the need of chaperone or abaya."
And I do sympathize with her. Some people get used to it. Others don't And sometimes the feeling of being oppressed comes in cycles. Especially if you have been out on a holiday to someplace else in the rest of the normal world. Coming back to have restrictions imposed on you just hits you harder.
I did talk to her before she left for her extended Christmas holidays. She was telling us how she liked it here. But now the culture shock has returned. We often feel, upon coming back here, like our wings are clipped cruelly after we were allowed to fly around else where.
And how do the women drown their caged sorrows? By shopping of course! As I mentioned earlier, the shopping bus becomes a lifeline for the women to the outside world. And the primary occupation here is shopping! And guess what, more Malls are being built as we speak. Who actually buys anything these Mall we don't really know. And I often wonder how the economy can sustain the sheer number of Malls. WOmen here do shop and buy things out of sheer boredom.
The recreation manager would produce a time table every month, detailing where the shopping bus is scheduled to go for the day. Some women depend on the bus for their grocery shopping. Some husbands are just too exhausted when they get home to bring them out. Others just don't like driving at night here and so their wives would depend on the weekends to be brought out.
Or they can take the limo. Perhaps they are called the limo because the charges are exorbitant. RM35 a ride or Rm 50 an hour for a waiting service. We normally refrain from using the limo unless it was absolutely necessary.
Aren't you glad you have the freedom to drive or take the subway or the public bus to go anywhere you want?
Everything, they say, comes at a price. For us here, its our freedom. Would YOU trade shopping for your personal freedom?