– Do you know Al Bawadi?
– We always just drive by, but I haven’t been there yet.

My new friend Zahwa from Sri Lanka proceeds to tell me that they have all sorts of abayas at that market, practically the same ones as in shopping malls, only cheaper. And scarves and tunics, dresses …

Abaya is the most common women’s outerwear in Saudi Arabia. Anyone in the West may just think that we practically wear robes here. “How much money can one actually spend on a plain robe?”

Well, if we are talking about a completely ordinary black abaya without decorations, the prices start at 10 €, from 20 to 30 € for the more beautiful ones, with patterns, with pockets, colorful ones … The prices of designer abayas in boutiques go sky high. In shopping malls, prices really turned out to be inflated, and bargaining is not that much of an option there. So I suggested with glee that we go to Al Bawadi together soon.

This was my first experience here at a market without my husband by my side. I didn’t even think I might have any problems on the way. “I’m going to get one of those fancy abayas,” I said to myself. “And I already know how to bargain a little.”

We arrived to Al Bawadi, where Zahwa quickly reminded me I should get ready for loud invitations from the shops. But nothing could have prepared me for what was waiting for us around the corner. Indeed, every salesman did his best to lure us to his stall. In Arabic, in English, out loud, almost too close, behind us after we already passed …

I found one at the third or fourth stall. Beautifully patterned abaya with a belt and fringes at the bottom. Boho style, modern! I haven’t had one of those yet. It cured my “abaya fever”. For a while … And I even managed to bargain for a reasonable price.

After that things almost got out of hands. Two more scarves, a smaller purse (I really needed it), sunglasses (I also need those every day), and in the end one more abaya-like-cardigan in royal blue. This will be for receiving guests or visiting friends.

Zahwa reassured me that I managed to haggle for a fair price at just about every vendor, and that nobody ripped me off. So I may have been right for a reason: there was nothing to worry about how I would manage alone at a market in Saudi Arabia. I already know a thing or two after all!

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