Looking through the hijab is like watching TV on a fuzzy static-filled screen. I know this because I spent this whole week in my buibui (long black dress) and hijab (headscarf) and some days in the ninja (covering my whole face except the eyes). It was a hot week. And it was not an easy week. On the days I came home for lunch, I flung the bui bui off and enjoyed the freedom of my skin breathing in fresh air. I missed this cooling sensation when I was draped under the thick black material. And, after lunch it was never easy to get back into my attire. Everyday, my eyes wandered to the skirts in a pile nearby. I wanted to grab one of them instead of the bui bui. But I didn’t. And I am glad that I didn’t because it was also a week where I felt as if my relationships with women in particular took great strides.
Comments like “you are one of us now” or “you look beautiful” or, simply, “wow,” all made my day. Originally, I expected that some women would consider my dress to be mocking them, that they would disapprove. But my analysis of what would happen didn’t pan out: not one woman said a negative comment to me. Women actually stopped me to make sure I knew that they liked seeing me in the bui bui. I have decided that next week, although I will not be working in the school, I am going to wear the Muslim women’s clothing again because I think it is important for the work that I am doing. It makes sense when you think about it.
To put it into American lingo: a Lamu Muslim women seeing a white woman in a buibui is sort of like an American seeing someone wearing a t-shirt or a hat with the logo of their favorite sports team. American’s cannot contain their excitement when they see that. The guy from Boston may not know the person in the Red Sox B baseball cap but, to them, who cares: they share a common interest. So here when women see me in the hijab it doesn’t really matter that I am not a Muslim (and I am open with explaining to them that I am not a Muslim). Rather, they are magnetically drawn to me because I am similar to them. And I am a lot more similar to them than if I were dressed in an American skirt from Anthropologie and a t-shirt. So they stop me and talk to me. In America strangers are connected with sports attire, in Lamu strangers bond over Muslim dress. Interesting.
So it may look fuzzy through the hijab but it is clarifying my understanding of the Muslim women here in Lamu.