Miss Do You Have Face?

by Laura Boushnak

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A Jordanian student thought I was taking her picture and said jokingly “ I swear if you take my photo, I’ll have my seven brothers go after you!” That was at an NGO in the suburbs of Amman, which provides a two-year program for students who had dropped out from their schools. Keeping in mind how conservative the parents were, I agreed with the deputy director of the center to get a signed form of authorization from the parents of the students to be able to publish their images, even though a lot of them were over 18 years old. It took a while before I got any response. In the end only six out of 120 students brought the form back, including two sisters, and one who forged the signature of her father!

I spent around four weeks at the NGO and I had to use a variety of techniques to avoid showing the girls’ faces. This was particularly frustrating, because most of the girls would frequently jump into the frame and pose in a sexy way, imitating Lebanese pop stars.

These girls are under a lot pressure to behave in a certain way to protect their reputation, and it all has to do with traditions and customs. No wonder the field trips are usually a good time for the girls to feel free and break from the restrictions imposed on them by their parents, brothers, and even school teachers. Many parents will only let their daughters go to the center if a teacher is on board the school bus to supervise the students. I accompanied the girls once during a field trip to an entertainment park. I observed with fascination how some of them would discreetly break the rules. On that day a teacher took her role a tad too seriously by keeping the curtains of the bus closed. When the hot wind blew the curtains open, the teacher then asked the girls to close the windows. Some pretended not to hear her orders. And of course they had to stop singing and dancing at every single traffic light. The second the bus driver would accelerate everybody jumped out of their seats again and continued the cheerful performance. Many brought their mobile phones even though they’re not allowed to do so. But when it comes to mixing with boys, that’s like a red line. A guy desperately kept on hovering around his car and playing loud music to attract the attention of the girls, but it was too obvious for any of them to go and talk to him in front of everybody. However, an attractive girl was the gossip of the day when she enjoyed several free horse rides from the young gentleman manning the horse, who obviously liked her

The families of the students keep a watchful eye over the behavior of their daughters, therefore having a Facebook account is often not allowed. Towards the last days of my shoot, a young student asked with a cheerful voice, with her hand on her waist and leaning in towards me, “ Miss do you have Face?” That’s when I found out that some of the students have Facebook accounts where they publish their images. Some used a flower image as their profile picture to conceal their identities, but others simply used their faces. And it suddenly made sense to me that, despite their parents banning them from having their pictures published, most of them would ask me: “Miss, please take my photo!”. So Facebook has an easy ride, while I had to stick to the rules.

The obvious conclusion I drew was that no matter how strict the rules are, teenage girls, driven by their curiosity, will always find their way around them.