inevitably it comes up so i might as well address it here. what are women wearing?
it varies a lot. not all women's heads are covered, the proportion varies a lot depending on where you are. women in bigger cities tend to be covered less. as are women along the mediterranean coast. the further inland and smaller the town, the more covered heads you see. another factor is religion. christian woman's heads are almost always bare, muslim women usually are covered. in the christian quarter of damascus most heads are bare. by the ummayid mosque, just a short walk away, virtually all female heads are covered.
the amount of coverage varies too. most women seem to just have a simple scarf over their hair. but some wear full iranian-style chadors (some who i have seen could be iranian women--i have been around a number of shia shrines that supposedly attract a lot of persian pilgrims).
one thing about the amount of coverage, almost all the local women show their face. they don't wear afghan-style burqas here. at least i haven't seen any.
here's the funny thing: women cover their heads because the qur'an instructs women to be modest, but when the rest of a person's body is covered, the face seems to jump out at you. i think it's hard-wired into us. it's like a baby's face poking out of a blanket. your eyes are immediately drawn to the baby's face. so while women cover for modesty, the effect on me is that my eyes are drawn immediately to their face, more than any of the uncovered women around them. it seems like that's the opposite of what they're going for.
here's the other funny thing: in the markets of damascus, crowded with women in modest clothes, there are some pretty risque lingerie hanging in the windows of some of the shops. like fredericks of hollywood-style things. every time i saw one of those shops the only customers were women wearing the full chador-style covering. after a while, you start to wonder what they have on under those things when you see them walking around the city.
UPDATE (sept 17): doh! right after i wrote the above post, i went out on the street and noticed a bunch of women with covered faces (only the eyes showing). so i was wrong to write "almost all the local women show their face" above. of course, they may not all be local women. there are a bunch of saudi and iranian tourists around--i can tell from the license plates. but considering that i saw some of the all-but-eyes people way out in the sticks (far from any tourist spot or religious pilgrimage site), at least some must be syrian.