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What the Headscarf Reveals (other than my nose)

In all seriousness… (click to read the prequel to this post)

I believe people who ask what an American non-Muslim woman wearing an abaya and headscarf communicates are sincere in their question. And while I am sincere in answering with, ‘my big nose,’ I do realize that isn’t the answer they are looking for.

So, the answer is…

I don’t know.

At least, I don’t know exactly.

I know what people’s faces look like when they see me. Have you ever had someone’s chin literally drop open, their eyes bug out, their whole head tilt toward you? And then they stare at you until you are out of view, making no effort to mask it? Even turning their body and craning their neck and shoving others (also staring) out of the way for a better view? That’s one reaction.

Some people don’t blink, but as soon as I open my mouth, many resort to the reaction in the previous paragraph. Sometimes, this staring ends with an approach and a question, a hand-shake, laughter, a new friend. Sometimes it ends with a stone thrown at my back. You never can know.

But what does it communicate? You’d have to ask a Muslim, a Djiboutian.

It could be that…

I am a Muslim. Or if not Muslim, at least…

I am religious.

I am Arab (if I keep my mouth shut).

I am modest.

I am respectful of my host country.

I am too tired to do my hair and too lazy to put on a nice dress.

I like to try new things.

I like black.

I want to hide the embarrassing sweat stains on my chest and back and pits and stomach and legs and butt.

I am trying (and failing) to not be stared at or talked about or touched or spit on.

Or it could be a combination of any of the above. Or none of the above.

One of the things I like about wearing the abaya is this very ambiguity because it starts conversations. It forces the throwing aside of assumptions and an embracing of dialogue. To me, wearing a headscarf is like saying, “Don’t assume you know me, or anything about me based on outward appearance. Look beyond the obvious.” Part of me wonders if that isn’t exactly why many Muslim women love to cover.

It forces people to look deeper.

What does a woman in an abaya and headscarf communicate to you?

Here’s another great post about hijab and how people react, by Sarita, a Muslim British woman living in Italy.

By |November 30th, 2012|Categories: Djibouti Life, Faith, Islam|Tags: , , |6 Comments

What the Headscarf Reveals

People ask why I choose to cover my hair or wear an abaya or a shiid once in a while. They often ask what an American non-Muslim woman in an abaya and scarf communicates.

Today I pulled on an abaya and draped a pink and gray scarf over my hair.

I haven’t worn the abaya since being back except once to a funeral and when I slipped it over my head I felt comfortable and hidden. I love the swirling black cloth, the mystery of a robe, like I was a secret. Then I wound the scarf around my head and looked in the mirror.

I cringed.

The number one reason I love my curly hair is that it distracts from my face. From the Dumbo-sized honker right smack in the middle of my face. From the hook-nose I broke my senior year of high school. Yes, I wore a cast. Yes, it was awful.

Wrapping all that distracting hair under a scarf accentuates this family inheritance (from both sides, was there ever any hope?). And in that moment, each time I cover, it becomes glaringly obvious what my headscarf communicates.

Rachel has a big nose.

I got stares all the way through town. People pointed and waved. Saluted. Laughed. Begged. Looked and tripped.

It could have been the car with the woman they’d all seen before, now looking mysteriously like an Arab. It could have been the covered woman who kept checking the mirror and readjusting (and swerving dangerously).

But probably, it was the nose.

I’d love to know: If you cover, what is the first thing you notice in the mirror?

Here is a great blog post by a Muslim woman about coming to terms with her face. I know the feeling.

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