This article (edited version) was first published on ‘Travel Log Magazine’ an insert of Standard Newspaper on 6/6/2019
Anywhere you go outside what you consider home, you will experience culture shock. Different races, languages, accents, weird behaviours, unique looks, interesting concepts. That is not unless you are a Muslim hijabi woman then YOU are the culture shock. Even in the twenty first Century where human rights activism is like a cup of tea for anyone and everyone as long as you have a bold, loud voice and an active twitter account, you will still be viewed in a peculiar way.
As soon as you walk into that international conference at the registration desk, the first thing the receptionist will do is view you head to toe. They will give you the ‘are you sure you are at the right place?’ look, frowning and perusing through the pages of the names of attendants. You get it. You are a typical mshamba looking Muslim lady. At least that’s how they view you; backward. You are in full black like a crow of doom. You probably remind them of that widow at your village who wore full black for an entire six months after her husband passed away. The woman would wail and weep and grieve hysterically every day at the worship area, the villagers started avoiding prayers entirely. Yeah, you my friend remind them of the Dark Age where women had no say and their only place was the kitchen. You are an ugly dejavu.
You humbly say your name and creases form on their forehead, ‘Ati?! …I can’t find that name here’ they’d say as you patiently wait. She takes forever before your exotic, out-of-this-world name is found.
‘Aha! Here is your name. Sorry for the delay,’ the receptionist murmurs as they struggle to give you a smile and your wrongly written name.
The minute you walk in, you’re invisible. You immediately drown in the crowd. Everyone is talking to somebody. Laughter. Intense conversations. Introductions. No one is interested in knowing who you are. Why you are there or even bothered by it. You just don’t matter. You don’t fit in.
You try to start a conversation with that sweet looking lady next to you and just when she is about to respond, she is pulled aside by another lady who probably thinks what she has to say is more important.
People will actively avoid you, ignore you. Well that is until the conference begins and you get to officially introduce yourself. The look on their faces is priceless when you mention your credentials. The ‘Ohh! I didn’t see that coming’ look. The ‘Wow’ expression on their faces. And you think to yourself, ‘Huh! On your faces!’ Suddenly, they value your opinion. Suddenly, your thoughts matter. Suddenly, you are the one being pulled aside for questions and connections and future deals.
But that is never the end of it. There must be the interrogation session during the tea and lunch breaks. They will always have questions for you. Not about what brought you there. Not about the super-intelligent response you gave. Not about your ideas. Not about your mind-blowing project or pick your very smart brain. Rather, it is about your very amusing choice of dressing. They’d ask why you don’t shake hands with male after they had initially concluded it as an act of racism. They’d ask whether you’re married and have kids because ‘what better do Muslim ladies know other than marriage?!’ They’d ask about how non-Muslim men can successfully marry into your religion and tribe.
They’d ask about your very black buibui and scarf. They’d ask sarcastically if your religion and culture prevents you from wearing heels too since you’re wearing your very comfortable sneakers. Some lady might even be kind enough to give you ‘first impression tips.’
“You are very intelligent I see. You need to come out of your cocoon if you want to grow further and achieve even more.”
“Come on, don’t be like an old mama…your face deserves some spice up…”
“You know, if you want people to take you seriously you need to make some changes here and there with your wardrobe. Like that over-sized, over-spacious buibui that you wear could fit two of you, why don’t you take it to the tailor? Or even better, why don’t you wear a coloured dress, it doesn’t have to be immodest. You can still wear long sleeves and full length wear?”
And of course that is something you can do. You can wear a long modest dress because buibui originates from the
Coastal culture and not exactly religion. You do respect women who wear differently and appreciate them for what they bring to the table. Why then shouldn’t the respect be reciprocated?
You try to explain it to them. That the purpose of hijab is to make a woman be inconspicuous, not in terms of having a voice, not in terms of being educated, not in terms of being empowered or having a job but in terms of physical outlook. In terms of concealing her beauty except for the right individuals. If one’s personal choice to be modest is wear black, why should it bother anyone? Why does the world preach ‘My dress My choice’ and still have double standards about it? Why do we say that ‘No one should tell a woman what to do with her life’ yet still judge the woman who intentionally chooses to make her brain and her behaviour the more important aspect of her life rather than the size and colour of her dressing? But you already know how this will roll. Questions, heated discussions, more questions. The men simply don’t get it and the women feel you are caged. Even after your lengthy explanations, they still won’t change their fixed mind-set of you or your backward choices.
You sigh loudly and have an enigmatic smile on you. You’d expect that stereotyping and discrimination would be less in an international, intercultural, seemingly open-minded audience. Yet, here you are!
You sit calmly, listening to all their suggestions, jokes, and mocks, unaffected. Because you’ve heard it all. You’ve heard the same things over and over and over again, you’re amused at the extents people can go to make you feel small. They will remind you over and over that for you to be a dignified, successful lady there must be compromises to be made. There must be some adjustments. You must spice up your principles so as to fit in.
So here you are, with all these thought-provoking conversations, all these brilliant ideas that will rot in your head because everyone is worried about your choice of dressing, your cooking methods and whether you’re married or not. What a disgrace.
You are now thinking of starting a Black Crow hashtag and movement on twitter with your 237 followers. Your bio will probably read something like, ‘If you don’t value my brain, you don’t deserve my time’ then have that famous little, smug goat meme as your profile picture.
And now you’re ready to roll.
‘I am the Black Crow. Unstereotype Me.’