Women Only

Fatima El-Issawi, Agence France Presse
Publication Date: 
Thu, 2003-11-06 03:00

AMMAN, 6 November 2003 — It is ladies’ night every night at Sabaya cafe, Jordan’s first women-only coffee shop which aims to offer them a place of their own, in this conservative society, to eat and drink and listen to music.

The brainchild of a woman, Hanin Majali, the ‘Sabaya’ (Girls) opened last week at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan when Muslims traditionally enjoy going out in the evening after breaking the daytime fast. “It is very important for women to be able to sit in a cafe without being bothered by curious onlookers,” Majali, 33, told AFP. “In coffee shops that cater for men and women, the women must be always on their guard, they can’t laugh out loud. Their every moves are scrutinized,” she said. Coffee shops in Arab Muslim countries usually bear a sign that says they are open for “families only” although many of their clients are young men, she explained. “The presence of these men forces some of the more traditional families to stay away,” she added.

Not so at the Sabaya cafe, which hangs a sign on its front door that says clearly that men are not welcome inside while women can come in unaccompanied. The coffee shop is located in Sweifiyeh, a booming commercial neighborhood in upscale west Amman rife with trendy clothing shops, fast-food restaurants, gaming centers and even a Thai massage parlor.

A team of seven young waitresses serves the budding clientele of Sabaya who have learned of it through word of mouth.

Non-alcoholic beverages, sweets and light meals are served until the wee small hours but many prefer to smoke the narguileh, or water pipe, as they chat, trade gossip, joke and talk about life in general in a relaxed atmosphere. “The most important thing for me is that they feel at home and my dream is that Sabaya will become a meeting point for women from all walks of life,” said Majali.

In order to make her realm complete, the owner searched high and low for a female musician to entertain her clients but when all that failed she settle for a blind music man.

The only men that work for Sabaya are the cooks in the kitchen upstairs, who have strict instructions not to show their faces in the coffee shop. In fact, unlike most establishments that have restrooms for men and women, Sabaya only has a “ladies’ room” and the cooks must go to another place around the corner when they need to. For Juliana Deek, Sabaya is an ideal getaway for women who are often left at home while their husbands go out on the town.

“Coming here is a good change,” said Nancy, a 28-year-old woman in trendy western clothes who declined to give her last name. “I usually go out with my friends to coffee shops or restaurants that cater to men and women but we don’t always need to be accompanied by men so this here is a good opportunity,” she said. Sabaya has also proved popular among veiled Muslim women like Rafika, 35. “Here I am free to smoke the narguileh and talk as I please without any of the constraints of a mixed cafe,” she said.

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