A 25-year-old Muslim Indonesian woman has been travelling in Asia alone, and shared her experiences and the reactions of people who encounter her on her escapades.
Anissa Syifa Adriana saved $1,000, and left her job in August 2016, and then went on to explore different countries in Southeast Asia. Her travels include a 550-mile motorcycle trip through Southern Vietnam before she opted to settle down as an English teacher in Northwestern China.
“I was working at a job with the government when one of my coworkers told me about Couchsurfing. All of a sudden, this whole community — and the idea of inviting someone to stay with you and showing them your own city for the sake of new friendship — was opened up to me,” she said as she explained how the drive to travel unraveled.
“In many ways, I feel like I was quite naive before leaving Indonesia. As a Muslim woman, I was part of the majority: I wore a hijab daily as a personal choice and prayed five times a day,” she added. Her epiphany came with travel experience and exposure, “it wasn’t until I was out of the country that I realised that some people are uncomfortable with it.”
She narrates a particular incident in Thailand which occurred between her and her male host at a hostel. “He was very hesitant and asked “Are you sure you can hug me?” Little gestures like that would happen a lot on my trip”.
“A Couchsurfing host I had in the Philippines also transferred me at the last minute to one of his friends, because the friend has a Muslim fiancée. He’s never hosted a Muslim person before, so I think he just wasn’t sure what to do. He told me, “Your hijab is a really bold statement to me — I don’t really know how to interact with you, and I don’t know if it’s okay for me to stay with you.” He was being respectful of the fact that he’s a man and I’m a Muslim woman, but this episode stayed with me vividly,” Adriana said.
She also talked about how her experience was shaped by the way she dressed as well. One of the focal points of the interview was how her travel experience was impacted by her religion. She also said that while travelling with the hijab, her immigration process becomes lengthier.
“I receive a lot of judgment from other Muslims because of how I live,” she said while sharing how comments on her YouTube videos were comments on her instead. The “not Muslim enough” label has been thrown on her multiple times. “Someone left the comment, “You’re a Muslim and you shouldn’t be touching someone’s shoulder,” and they preached that I should be learning more about Islam, but Indonesia is not an Islamic country.”
“However, I’ve been rethinking my relationship with the hijab lately. It’s only a piece of cloth — it doesn’t change who I am. But, when I put it on, things are different, and I become self-conscious of it as well. If I don’t wear it, I can just be any solo female traveler,” she added.
“It’s nice to have space from the hijab sometimes, because it becomes completely attached to your identity,” she concluded.
This article was originally published in Refinery29.