Today I am blogging at Hotchpotch Hijabi in Italy about how I can’t explain my faith, my culture, or my work in single word sentences.
I don’t remember who stumbled upon whom first, but somehow Sarita and I found each other’s blogs and immediately felt a curiosity and a connection. She is a British expat, teaching English in Italy, and is a Muslim revert. She writes about Italy and food and Islam with candid humor and grace and I can’t recommend highly enough that after reading my post, you spend a bit of your precious time perusing her blog. You’ll laugh, you’ll learn, and you might discover someone you’d love invite to coffee and gelato and conversation. Sarita will also show up here, as part of the Let’s Talk about Hijab series in a week or so.
Here’s an excerpt of my piece at her blog today. Would love to have you head over, read, comment.
One of my favorite things to do in Djibouti is to listen in when people talk about me in Somali and then interrupt with a quiet and firm, “Waan ku fahmayaa.” I understand you.
Shock registers, every time. People fall from chairs, trip over their own feet, grab onto one another, cover their faces with their headscarves in shame, kiss me, shout “Maasha Allah!” Thank God! They pull random bystanders into our space and throw their arms around me.
The newcomer invariably responds with “That’s impossible.”
I remain silent while the others repeat what just happened and again, at the right moment, I interject with a proverb or a joke or a rare fact.
A few weeks ago I waited for my coworker Hassan in the front area of the Djiboutian newspaper offices. The lone foreigner. Curly blond hair. Long skirt and billowy shirt, modest but not local. A small group gathered. People wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.
“The white lady is waiting for someone,” the doorman said. We had already spoken, shaken hands, asked after family members.
“But who could she be waiting for?” one of the cleaning ladies asked. She sat next to me, our elbows brushed. “Her skin is white but maybe her insides have become Issa.” Issa is the major Somali clan in Djibouti.
“I’m waiting for Hassan,” I said in Somali.
The cleaning woman gasped and grabbed my arm. “Praise God I called you white and not galo!” she said. The word galo means infidel but is often used to refer to Caucasians.
“I’m not an infidel,” I said. “I have a religion and am very happy with it.”
“Are you a Muslim?”