Thursday, September 6, 2012

Just for Niqabs and Giggles

This is a few days late. But I have been thinking about how I wanted to share this story, without feeling weird about it. It is not a bad story, good story, or neutral story. It is, for the most part, just a daily part of my existence.

So, I'll jump right in.

I was at the library checking out this giant stack of books for research. Until I turned around a saw a friend. She (if happens to be reading this) will remain unnamed, because I prefer a level of discretion in my online life.

This friend happens to be a niqabi (she wears the face veil, but her eyes are exposed). I happen to be a hijabi (I wear a head covering, but my whole face is exposed). She called my name, I turned around and we greeted each other. Simple, right? I mean, one would assume so.

Anyway, I turned back to the librarian to say thank you and walk away. But she said "How do you guys even recognize each other?". My friend's facial expression was "did she just ask that?" But it wasn't a loaded with anger or frustration, but patient complacency. It was an inquisitive look, asking me silently, "reem, do you answer or do i?". Now, you may be wondering, How in the heck are these two girls communicating through facial expressions, when one of their faces is covered. And the answer is simple, its all in the body language. And that is exactly the answer I gave the librarian.

I said, with one of my GIANT grins, "Oh, its the body language. and of course our sense of clothing, we're friends so you get used to seeing how the other moves or carries themselves." Now, this isn't an exact quote, but overall, what was being said.

That was it. Encounter over. My friend left, I left, the librarian stayed to work.

So, why blog about this? I will have to use on of my infamous lists....

1) The librarian had no clue. I respect her question, she was curious. And Curiosity is a good feeling. I think that this woman probably thought this before, but never really said anything. I mean, there are tons of niqabis who roam campus, who check out books, who have conversations. I would like to think, it is because my friend's eyes were welcoming.

2) Niqabis have it even worse in America than hijabis. I always talk about how hijabis are completely misunderstood. Well Niqabis are 10x more. I remember once I gave this random monologue at an event regarding muslim women 4-5 years ago, about how Niqabis should be more vocal and in the public sphere. I know some of the brightest minds behind those niqabs, and I hate to think that they are written off because of a measly stereotype. This particular friend is one of the smartest, hard working, people I know. And people always remember her from classes, not because of the way she looks, but because of her voice, that holds conviction. I've talked to people who have taken classes with her, and they'll ask me, "Reem, do you know so and so" (because, yes every muslim knows every other muslim), and in this instance I do! They'll describe her words and voice and I know, right away that it is my friend, because she speaks her mind unapologetically.

3)Its all in the body language. You don't need to hear people say something, to understand them. Maybe, I could have made a mistake and thought she was someone else. Maybe, our non-verbal communication was wrong, and I projected onto her emotions that she may not necessarily have had. But, what I am trying to say is, body language makes a difference. We live in a day and age when our faces are glued to our laptops and phones. We read conversations a lot more than verbally express them. In fact, we watch people online at insane amounts of frequency. But there is something to said about non-verbal communication. It can tell you years and years of information by just one glance. A person's tone (and yes, now I am lumping tone with the non-verbal because it is not the actual words but the sound of the words) can completely give away a person's thought processes, principles in life, and general outlook on the world. I think we need to study cues of non-verbal communication of our loved ones.

4) Remember that you may be TOTALLY WRONG! Say, what?!?!! I'm wrong?!?! huh?! Yes, wrong. This is about #3, which I kind of alluded to, but didn't really unpack. So, now I am unpacking. Everyone has a unique body language that is completely different based on their individual personalities, their family norms, their culture and society, and contemporary world trends. Yes, all four of these things. For the most part, we pick up on the latter two, because they are easier to figure out. If someone frowns, usually in means they are displeased with something. If someone laughs, they find something funny, ect. But different people, do different things. I'll give you two scenarios from my personal life.

A) One time, I was being interviewed for something and the interviewer was sitting directly across from me. He asked me questions, he jotted down answers. But he also, because I could read his notepad from my position, in which he noted, does not make eye contact. I'll have to say that as an American, not making eye contact is the biggest faux pas a person could entertain in social life. But in Arab culture, it is totally normal to look away. So, for me based on cultural cues (of my culture within a culture), I tend to make 100% eye contact when someone is speaking to me. When I speak, I make limited eye contact, lets say an average percentage of 20. So, for him as an interviewer he barely spoke, which would mean that I made very little eye contact.

B) Another time, I was being interviewed by a classmate for our oral history class. We were sitting in my office, which is comfortable. I was sitting on my chair, with my knees folded to my chest, talking freely. For him, I was nervous. For me, I was comfortable. Actually, I noticed all my maternal aunts sit like this, and a few of my cousins as well. But anyway, at that moment, when I realized --- wow, he thinks I am nervous, I explained to him that this is just how I sit. Then, he realized later on... its true. She sits in class, this same way, everyday. HEY!!! DON'T JUDGE ME!! I LIKE TO BE COMFORTABLE IN CLASS!

--- what are these stories saying? That sometimes the dominant cultural and social trends don't apply for individuals. They may do something different, you need to be able to recognize those nuances.


So let me wrap up, because this post is getting quite lengthy. Embrace life, be curious, ask questions, read people, but don't make assumptions. Plus, she some verbal love, or at least a smile with the niqabis in your area. They are truly misunderstood in American society.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Reem I love the way you think.

-Sima Janoudi