Burqa woman: A 'make-believe' refugee

The one outrageously true aspect about this outfit is that the friends you make in it are your true companions.

Yusra Mujib September 20, 2011
"Excuse me ... I'm almost afraid to ask this, but I have never seen anyone like you before. May I please take a picture?"

Summer hat, sea blue shirt with khaki shorts revealing legs tanned, the right shade of cocoa-brown - how could I say no to this guy? So I pose next to a palm tree and say: 
 “I have my best smile on but I bet your photography can’t do any justice to it.”

As he manages a nervous giggle, I can almost hear his thoughts:
"Crazy woman with a strange sense of humour."

That was justified, of course, considering the fact that he couldn’t see my glowing expression. With a jet black veil covering my face and the rest of my body, I appear little more than a silhouette to most. A single window for the eyes and an accompanying voice, are added features. Now that’s worth a picture, isn’t it?

Approaching a cross-roads, this article can go in two different directions from this point; I could begin explaining my choice to wear the face-veil due to the Islamic beliefs that come with the package, or I could share contemporary experiences that come with the package, only in the 21st century. I choose to do the latter as you can find much better authorities on the former from within Muslim society.

Thanks to the millions of images emerging from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, there are only two nations people associate me with – Afghanis or Arabs. Living in Dubai more specifically, I appear to be a UAE national to many.

Now the UAE is a country where nationals have the greatest privileges in lifestyle and authority. Rightfully so, it is their country after all. Although the association inspires utmost respect and overwhelming politeness in many people, they also assume I know no other language apart from Arabic. You can expect that from any UAE-national but not from me – a Pakistani. That’s where the struggle begins. Speaking fluent and articulate English doesn’t help. One may damage her diaphragm enunciating, however, these fellows will refuse to understand a single word. They will insist you comprehend the four words of Arabic they know and respond solely in that language. Talk about globalization!

Also, talk about global aphasia – the loss of the ability to communicate. The other half of the people, mostly fresh arrivals from the West, assume I am from Afghanistan and appear to be suffering from global aphasia. With that thought in mind, a man walks up to me and without uttering any sound, starts making the most perplexing gestures. I try to make sense of the flailing hands and jerks, sometimes even a chicken impression if they are looking for KFC. I brace myself as I attempt to respond with similarly exaggerated gestures, because a reply consisting of intelligible words and ideas is extremely shocking to many. I rarely make use of them.

That’s not my only reason though. Turns out, an Afghani woman who does know English is a sign of pitiful oppression and must be sympathized with. I’ve overheard people say that my situation involves a talented mind imprisoned by conservative tribal bounds. For fear of innumerable cardiac arrests, I never mention I’m actually not from Afghanistan. I do understand how oddly contradicting that would seem. People would see me in the same light as George Bush – waging wars to make peace prevail.

Nevertheless, ever heard of the old lady who didn’t want to cross the street?

With the Afghani assumptions follow the pat on the shoulders, the motivating words, the visits from understanding colleagues, the taboo subject of my family, and the friendly discussions about the overriding power of government officials. Someone needs to ship these folks to Afghanistan. They will do well helping others; I speak with the authority of a 'make-believe' refugee.

Truth be told, these are just the occasional light-hearted moments I share with strangers mostly. Friends are the highlight of my experience. You see, the one, overriding, outrageously true aspect about this outfit is that the friends you make in it, are your true companions. Their judgment lies solely on your personality and has nothing to do with your nail colour or its brand. That doesn’t stop them from suggesting Batman and Darth Vader for my Halloween costumes, though.

Agreeably, the view from my window to the world is no different from my peers. The tools to operate aren’t any different either. Occasionally though, one may deny her own identity to avoid unwanted company. For instance, when approached by a clingy fellow, one may reply in unrecognizable Taliban-language to make the individual run for cover. But then again, being comfortable in our skin is what’s it’s all about. Fortunately for me, the veil has become a second skin.
Yusra Mujib An aspiring journalist cum graphic designer, with a part-time ninja duty.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.