Gentrification and Street Harassment

I met a man last year who was concerned about gentrification in his neighborhood. He saw rich White people moving into this historically Black neighborhood and was offended that they didn’t want to interact with him, a Black man. They put up spite fences and ignored him when he tried to get their attention. I began to tell him about my work, explaining that if he called to me from his porch I might ignore him too, not because I didn’t respect him or because I meant to change the nature of his neighborhood but because of my experience with street harassment.
When a man, alone on his porch, yells ‘Hello’ at a woman on the street it’s not a neutral or innocuous act. In my experience the man wants something from me, sometimes he’s satisfied with a nod or ‘hello’ back, but most of the time he isn’t. In my experience he wants my name, my phone number, my time, my energy, my approval, all the things men feel emboldened to ask for, and when denied, demand. In fact, this man wanted all these from me too. I gave them willingly, hoping he would spread the word. The word that sometimes women just want to be left alone, and that has to be ok.

Asexuality Movie

(A)sexual the movie is on Netflix now so I watched it last night while I couldn’t sleep. In high school I started to explore my own asexuality and found AVEN, the Asexuality Visibility Network. I remember reading an article about David Jay, and being relieved to find a label that worked for me, that seemed to define my position on the sexuality spectrum. But like sex, asexuality just didn’t seem to hold my interest. In college I was too busy studying to worry about caring about my sexuality, it really never seemed that important to me. Lately I’ve been exploring the possibility of sexuality for myself, but seeing the movie gave me a sense of relief, to reinforce that there’s nothing wrong with asexuality in our sexualized society was really powerful and comforting to me.

I was reading about the 10 Most Common Reactions to Asexuality. One thing that’s important for me, but that I didn’t hear expressed in the movie, is that while these are not what define asexuality, you can be asexual for zero, any and all of those reasons. Maybe you’re ugly, repressed, have a hormone problem, and hate men because of sexual trauma. So what? If you’re not interested in sex you get to call yourself an asexual, and if you want you can explore your asexuality with others you should be able to do so.

I thought the movie was really interesting, and a great starting point for asexuality education. I was surprised and disappointed to find the link between asexuality and aspergers because for me it seemed to reinforce a stereotype that asexuals (a word spellcheck doesn’t recognize) are just too socially awkward to find dates. I think the reason David Jay has become such a good spokesperson for asexuality, and why I was drawn to him and the movement, is that he is conventionally attractive and socially adept; showing that his asexuality is a choice, not just the result of social ineptitude. (The article I read in high school described David Jay as having Kennedy-esque good looks and as being extremely well spoken.)

The movie showed many different types of asexuals but in doing so associated asexuality with a wacky freakishness that kept me from using the label for myself (eg. I had to fast forward while a woman hammers a nail into her face). So one drawback of the movie for me was an embracing of a certain kind of diversity, but, with classic human narcissism, what I found lacking were representations of me, and my own type of diversity. As far as I can recall there were 3 black people in the movie, 2 bigoted black guys at the beginning who didn’t believe asexuals existed and one ‘naturally celibate’ woman at the end.

I was also disappointed by Dan Savage’s comments which seemed to undermine the community. His view is that people who are asexual need to disclose this to any potential partner and should not be in relationships with sexual people. His idea is that it’s asexual people don’t need a movement because there isn’t real stigma associated with it, just go do that on your own, no one cares. His second point seemed to really undermine the first point though because without a movement to identify asexuality you wouldn’t know what to disclose at the beginning of a relationship. So many people don’t identify as asexual because they don’t know it exists, if you want people to self identify and remove themselves from the dating pool, or whatever, they need to understand and identify with the language and the language doesn’t develop without a community. That’s what I think, at least. I agree with Dan Savage so much, which is why I was so disappointed that he isn’t supportive of my part of the sexual spectrum.

Asexuality is difficult to define as a sexual orientation precisely because it is non-sexual, you could almost describe asexuality as the right to be left alone if you want to be. SPOILER ALERT Ultimately I found the end of the movie to be pretty sad. To find that David Jay thinks he won’t be able to have a meaningful relationship or raise a child without a somewhat sexual relationship made me really disappointed, but this is the subject of another blogpost to come.

P.S. I don’t want people to think I’m hating on the woman who hammers a nail into her face, she seemed pretty awesome. Aside from just liking her hair and her style and she said one of the things I most identified with in the movie, she said that before learning about asexuality she just thought that she was going to have to have sex at some point but that the thought was so repulsive to her that she figured she would have to drink herself into a stupor beforehand. This is exactly how I have always felt and it felt really refreshing to hear this expressed, and to see her in a relationship with someone who respected and heard this from her. The only other time I’ve heard this sentiment expressed is by a lesbian talking about straight sex, and I never identified as a lesbian. Anyway, it’s always nice to hear you’re not alone.

Talking about Math and Science

Like I’ve mentioned before, I have been taking some online math and programming courses as pre-requisites (or rather, requisites) for my Masters program. In my blog, I like to write about what is going on in my brain during the week, the thoughts I can’t seem to stop thinking about. Lately I’ve been thinking about math and science, but not writing about it. Why am I so loathe to write about math? I think it’s because I assume, like so many others, that no one wants to hear about math and no one wants to talk about math. If this is true, I want to try to change it.

I talked to a woman the other day who is a very successful lawyer. She said that in high school she loved physics, and going into college (UC Berkeley if I remember correctly), she wanted to be a physicist. She said it wasn’t poor teaching or intimidating classes that steered her away, she said she wanted to study something that she could talk about. It’s easier to talk about ideas you’ve read because they are in the same form as the way we speak (words), but how do we talk about math? I think it’s important for people, women especially, to learn how to talk about math and science in our everyday conversations. Why is it that we think these ideas are boring? Probably because we don’t talk about them.

In the spirit of talking about math/science and computers I’ll talk a little about my experience taking these courses the past couple weeks. As a student of the humanities (Near Eastern Studies and Geography), I have written many papers. I am really familiar with the process of writing a paper; formulating an argument, writing an outline, doing research, writing and editing drafts. I have done problem sets before, but I am re-learning the process. First off, I am relearning how to type. This is frustrating since I am a very quick typist in English, however, in html and LaTeX markup languages I use keys I’m unaccustomed to (like \ / |^$), I make mistakes and I have to type slower. It reminds me of learning to type in another language like Persian (well I guess it is another language). Typing isn’t the only part of the process that’s slower in computer science, since I haven’t done as many math problem sets or written many programs I don’t have a good idea of how long they are going to take. I’ve found that problem sets and programming code require more time at the end, whereas papers require more time at the beginning. Thinking about a paper and making an outline take the most time (for me at least), but with a math problem set, the first few problems are generally easier, it’s usually the last few that are hardest and take some time. With programs, well I don’t totally know how they work since I’ve only written a few, but I heard someone say that programming consists of writing bugs and fixing them, you have to allow yourself time to write all the bugs and fix all the bugs, and right now it’s really difficult for me to estimate how long it might take to do this. I have faith that given time and practice, this process will become as familiar to me as writing papers.

In the business world (especially in magazines and publications) there seems to be a schism between ‘creative types’ and ‘business types,’ a line I’ve always sought to straddle. People who write and work with art and ideas are considered ‘creative’ and people who work with computers, numbers and spreadsheets are considered ‘business/engineering types.’ I don’t think I should have to pick a side. As a woman of color, though, I do feel some pressure to go where I feel more underrepresented. I’ve never felt the pull of writing that others talk about, but I think I could express myself in the language of computers if I learned it.

Power Dynamics

This week I started taking some programming and math classes as pre-requisites for my Comp. Sci. Degree and, as I suspected, they’re really difficult. Why am I working so hard (and spending so much money) to get a degree in Computer Science anyway? Well there are a few reasons:

I need a marketable skill in order to compete in this job market. The job market for recent college grads in the US is DIRE. I was really lucky to find a job when I first graduated from college, finding another one has been truly challenging. I was unemployed then underemployed then unemployed again, accruing debt the whole time. With this degree at least I’ll be accruing debt with a purpose. Even if I can’t get a job that is different from one I’ve had before, I’ll probably be able to automate it somehow. Do it faster and more efficiently with the help of computers.

I think women and minorities are underrepresented in technology which affects the products we have the world we live in. Women and minorities have always been underrepresented in technology, what’s most worrisome to me now, is that our numbers are actually going down. There are half as many women in tech now than there were in the 80s. I don’t know how technology would be different if it were designed by women, but if I don’t participate in it, I never will.

I’m really uncomfortable with not knowing how computers work. More and more, we spend most our time on computers and dealing with technology. If knowledge is power, I am not comfortable giving that power and control to someone (or something) else. It’s MY computer, it should do what I tell it to. It’s not a person, it doesn’t have free will, if it isn’t doing what I tell it to it’s because I’m not saying it correctly. Computers have astounding potential, but if I’m not using it, what the point?

I need the knowledge to work on the (geography) problems I care about. In high school I fell in love with Calculus, in particular, I remember spending hours working on one problem, how best to display a sphere (3D) on a page (2D), a problem of map projection. I was (and am) convinced that there is a way to minimize distortion with the magic of calculus. Taking more math classes now I am getting excited about different problems that I can use computers to solve. Problems with access to information (geography/IT/translation), women’s issues, 1st world problems, 3rd world problems etc. Computers can help.

These (compelling) reasons aside, I’m not a computer scientist and I’m not really interested in becoming a programmer (unless I can make a lot of money doing it, which is possible). Partly I’m using computer science to help me figure out what I really want to do with my life. It’s hard going through all these math and programming classes, and to be honest, I might not last. But I think every minute is worth it, each class is one more computer skill that most people don’t have, a leg up on the competition. Plus, the harder it is to accomplish something, the more pride I feel when it’s done. With math and computer science it’s more than pride, there’s a power in mastery, when you can take a tool that almost everyone uses in a general way to do something specific and helpful to you, you make it your own.

“Between the ages of 20 and 40 we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity.”

-W.  H. Auden via Gretchen Rubin

Street harassment

I have been wanting to write this post for years, but street harassment is difficult to talk about and I didn’t know quite how to do it right. Part of what makes it so hard to talk about is that the type of harassment I’m talking about is couched in a compliment. In fact the behavior is so ingrained in our culture as a positive message (what I’m talking about is essentially this Michael Jackson Video) that it was difficult to figure out why it bothered me so much. Why did this make me feel so scared and alone when it had no effect (or the opposite effect) on others? If this is harassment, what rights were these people violating? I’ve recently been able to identify it, these people were violating my Right to be Left Alone. As a black woman, walking alone, I do not have to give up my Right to be Left Alone and no one can take it from me. This attention is unwarranted, unwanted and inappropriate, and I’ve been getting it for my entire life (not a #humblebrag).

When I was 9 years old I stopped wearing shorts. Every Saturday, from 1st grade through 5th grade I took piano lessons. My piano teacher lived about 5 miles from my house and my mother worked weekends so every Saturday I would walk 3 or 4 blocks to the bus-stop and take the bus to K’s house. (Just now I actually had to look up how many blocks it was to the bus stop because that walk was so terrifying to me sometimes that I thought it must have been at least 8 or 10 blocks.) The whole trip only took 30 minutes or so but I left myself an hour, sometimes more, and often would show up at my teacher’s house unexpectedly early. It must have started out fine, but at some point it became fraught with peril. One summer day, I wore a pair of roll-up jean shorts and a striped t-shirt to my lesson, on the way I ran into a group of boys. They were just teenagers, talking to me, one of them said they liked my shorts, that I looked cute, etc., I said thanks or and in response two of the boys blocked my way with their arms and feet. ‘Talk to me for a minute,’ they said, ‘Give me your number,’ I tried to decline as politely as I could and explained that I would be late to my lesson. They eventually let me through, but it felt like I held my breath until I was on the bus, I never looked back at them. After that I vowed never to wear shorts. As a child I was convinced it was my fault, but if I could just wear the right thing that no one would bother me. I began to feel like little red riding hood in my maroon hoodie all summer dodging dangerous wolves on my innocent mission to my piano lesson.

While I know that this is a problem for women across the board, a part of pretty much any woman’s coming of age story, I can’t help but think of the parallel to this list of rules for black men that came out recently related to Trayvon Martin. Black girls develop quicker than other girls, (though everyone is developing earlier these days) and I think I am more likely to be assaulted in a black community) so I think it does make sense to talk about it as a racial issue, though I respect the fact that it is also a feminist issue. The list of things black boys shouldn’t do included running in public, if I had made one when I was little, the list of things black girls shouldn’t do might include;
-not wearing shorts (unless you’re looking for a certain kind of attention)
-not buying into the Christina Aguilera induced backless shirt trend of the 90s
-leaving as early as possible in order to avoid groups of teenagers (who sleep in on weekends)
-avoiding groups of men
-wearing headphones and a hood
-walking with others if possible

What’s confusing as an 8 year old, and still confusing to me now, is what the appropriate response is to such a situation. ‘Ignore them’ is probably the most common response to such assaults, but this conflicts with the idea of being polite to strangers. Don’t make eye contact, but if I don’t look them in the face, how do I even know it’s a stranger and not someone I already know? When you learn social mores you learn how to behave in different situations, but this one blurs so many lines. Though they may not have known it, these boys were older than me, so do I treat them like an elder? But they were strangers, do I treat them like the homeless derelict? They were friendly, should I treat them like friends?

If I chose to treat them like a sexual predator I risk offending them, and thus prolonging the interaction some responses include:
‘I’m just giving you a compliment,’
‘Kids these days have no manners’
‘You know you’re allowed to smile, no shame in a smile’
‘Oo, I like em frisky’
You can read experience them yourself in this viral documentary

If, however, I chose to engage with the person and say thank you, or smile, this can be misinterpreted as a tacit approval of the assault, allowing it to continue. What is a 9 year old to do?
As a child I was faced with this quintessential feminist dilemma: What percent of my life is making people happy by being pretty or pleasant?

I’ve always been jealous of people in the summer who could wear less clothes, for years I stuck to my uniform of baggy jeans (or overalls) and oversized t-shirts and sweatshirts. That way no one could say I brought it on myself. Over the years I’ve found that it really doesn’t matter what I’m wearing. I’ve also found that other people are purposefully seeking the attention I dread. I have no solutions, I’m just stating a problem, as clearly as I know how.

For further reading please check out this racialicious article.

Updated 5.24.12 Please read another woman’s story and learn more about International Anti Street Harassment Week

Updated 7.6.12: Noticed this great article on clutch magazine via Black Snob

Updated 7.9.12: Another recent racialicious article on the same subject.

*Given my recent travels you may be wondering what street harassment was like in Kabul. In fact, when I went to Kabul I had a post like this in mind. But it’s difficult to compare the two situations because in Afghanistan I was never walking alone. Because of this I never knew whether peoples’ reactions were because I was black, because I was western, because I was traveling in a group, because I was so tall, or whether their attention was meant for my beautiful blonde companion. That said, I think unlike in the states, the way I would be treated in Afghanistan would really depend on what I was wearing. If I was walking alone and wearing a burqa I think people would likely have left me alone. Though a woman walking alone with a burqa on in Afghanistan is generally thought to be a widow, so they may try to give me their loose change. I can’t really speculate as to what would happen if I was walking alone wearing just a hijab or less, I think this would vary a lot depending on where I was in Afghanistan and what I was doing.

Day 1

After hearing that my camera had been stolen, my fellow traveler Tim Kutzmark kindly sent me some of his pictures. He’s awesome. I’ll try to post a few of his pictures from each day.

This is a picture of the blue Ali mosque that we went to on the first day.

After a long day of traveling we walked through a nearby cemetery and took pictures of the houses on the hill.

Later we went to see Fatima Akbary, and her company, Golestan-e-Sabak, (I talked a little bit about her in a previous post). She was a widow who had founded an NGO to help women and underprivileged in her community, she ran a girls school, vocational training courses as well as women’s business training.

Below you can see her showing us what had happened over the winter. The tent she had built as a temporary workshop had caved in under the snow and her tools were ruined; she would be unable to fulfill a furniture order that spring.

These are some girls in her class, the one in the pink hijab was reading aloud to us.

Fatima also teaches calligraphy and woodcutting to disabled people, a type of vocational training. This is some of the calligraphy they had done.

Thanks again to Tim for the pictures!

Afghanistan Trip FAQs

I’ve been back from Afghanistan for 2 weeks now, here is a list of questions people have asked me about the trip. Please feel free to email me any other questions you might have and I’ll try to address them on the trip page

Why did you go to Afghanistan?
I’ve been trying to go to Afghanistan for almost 8 years. I became interested in Afghanistan in high school when I met Patricia Whalen the International Association of Women Judges and women from the Afghan Women Judges Association. In college I was a Near Eastern Studies major, I studied Persian and Pashto and wrote my thesis on the Legal Systems of Afghanistan. While the University of Chicago supported my studies, I couldn’t find anyone to support a trip to do research.

Who did you go with?
I went with Global Exchange on their International Women’s Day in Kabul Reality Tour. It is their 10th year of doing reality tours in Afghanistan. The trip focused on women’s rights and women’s organizations as well as other NGOs and peacekeeping organizations.

Our tour-guide and translator was Najibulla Sedeqe, who was instrumental in parlaying (sp?) our way into some really interesting situations. My fellow travelers were a Unitarian Minister named Tim Kutzmark and freelance journalist named Salena Tramel.

How did you get there?
My flight went from New York to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Dubai, Dubai to Kabul.

Where did you stay?
We stayed at the Afghans for Tomorrow Guesthouse which I think is mostly aptly described as kind of a bed and breakfast. Downstairs were the offices for Afghans for Tomorrow. We had a cook, a maid, a porter/night guard and pretty much anything you could ask for.

How is your Arabic?
Terrible, I don’t speak Arabic, but neither do Afghans. In Afghanistan they speak a Persian dialect called Dari and another indo-european language called Pashto. In college I learned the Iranian dialect called Farsi which is very similar to Dari and I took an intensive Pashto course one summer. I didn’t really want to risk being misunderstood in the complex political discussions we were having during the day, but in the mornings and the evenings I was able to talk to the guest house staff in Farsi.

How did you deal with the heat?
Afghanistan is considered the Middle East, but it’s not a part of Arabia or North Africa; it’s not a desert. It’s a mountainous region of Central Asia and as such, the weather was really quite cold. The snow was just starting to melt during the first week of March, and it was 30°-50° F during the day and colder than that at night.

What was a typical day?
We did about equal parts sight seeing and meeting people. Our first meeting was usually around 9, so the 5 of us (Zarif, the driver, Najib, the tour guide, Tim, Salena and myself) would all pile into the toyota corolla around 8:30 and to go to a meeting or two in the morning. Then we would stop for lunch at a restaurant. After that we’d have another meeting or go to see a sight in the afternoon and return home by dark, around 5 or 6. I’d write in my journal, we’d eat dinner at the house and I’d fall asleep.

(When I say sightseeing, it’s true in that we went to see sights; lakes, gardens, mosques, museums, etc., but not in the sense that you might think. There is very little tourism in Afghanistan, especially over the winter, and we didn’t really see any other westerners.)

What did you eat?
Bread and tea were the staples of my diet in Afghanistan. The bread is like the naan you would find at an indian restaurant (except fresher and better) and the chai was generally weak green tea, which was perfect for me because it was just enough caffeine to get through the meeting, but not enough to make me crazy. The tea also kept us warm as not all the buildings were well heated. Every single place we went they offered us tea.
For breakfast we had tea and bread with cheese or jam, and the cook often made us scrambled eggs.
For lunch we ate out at nice-ish restaurants and ate kebabs, rice, bread, sometimes soup, dumplings or curry.
For dinner we had soup and a vegetable dish of some sort, our favorite was eggplant, but we also had delicious cauliflower curry and dumplings.

What did you wear?
I wore the hijab, and I’m glad I did since I didn’t see one woman in public without it. Every islamic country has a different interpretation of women’s dress, in Afghanistan the norm was long loose pants, a long sleeved tunic or shirt that went past your hips and a hijab. It was really cold so I also had a long coat on every day. I wrote a little more about it on this earlier post.

What was the situation for women there?
I’ve been asked this question a few times and I don’t really know how to answer it. I’ll just say this, there were women in almost every job in Afghanistan, police officers, judges, parliamentarians, judo masters, doctors, etc. but the only single women we met were widows, and we didn’t meet any women who didn’t have children. We rarely saw women on the street on the weekends (Thursday and Friday are the weekend in Kabul) and in more conservative areas we saw women only in burkas.

Where did you go?
We stayed mostly in Kabul but we took a day trip to the Panjshir valley to see Massoud’s tomb and a day trip to the village of Istalif.

Did you take pictures?
I did, but unfortunately my house was robbed last week and they stole the camera with most of my pictures on it before I got a chance to upload them. My fellow travelers took some great pictures though so I will link to them, and I also have one memory card with some of my pictures but I haven’t been able to see what was on it.

How did they feel about Americans and the War on Terror?
In Kabul I heard 3 things with surprising consistency; the biggest problem or challenge in the country is lack of security, the Pakistani government is to blame for many of the country’s problems, and everyone we asked wanted to keep US or international involvement in some respect. We talked mostly to middle-class urbanites in Kabul, but this was the anecdotal evidence we were able to gather.

You can see the evidence of 30 years of war in and around Kabul, in every neighborhood our tour guide pointed out a building that had a suicide bomb attack, the palace and museum were destroyed, we went through check-points almost every day. But I can’t imagine what it’s like in the countryside.

What about the Qur’an burning and the massacre?
I got to Afghanstan days after the Qur’an burning and the streets were calm. Our tour guide told us that there had been some peaceful protests where the police took care of security, but that these were over. The people we talked to were very upset about what happened, but they had heard Obama’s apology and they understood that it was an accident, they also said their mullas had told them to be patient and calm. I was in New York when the massacre happened and haven’t heard what the Afghan reaction has been.

The Hijab

Over the mysteries of female life there is drawn a veil, best left undisturbed
-Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

For the program they told us to make sure we put our headscarf on before we landed in Kabul. I decided to put mine on when I landed in Dubai. As I walked out of the bathroom I felt the way I do whenever I change my appearance; like everyone is staring. But after following the gaze of some onlookers I realized they weren’t staring at me, they were staring at the girl in the polka dot miniskirt.

I became accustomed to it quickly (though practically I still find it difficult to walk in the wind without losing my scarf and to eat without eating my scarf or spilling on it); it seemed the least we could do to show respect for the culture of Afghanistan. We saw no woman outside without a hijab (and inside only twice, with a hijab around her neck). The first days we were there, Thursday and Friday, are the weekend in Kabul and we saw almost no women on the street, only rarely a woman in burqa (chador), who was presumed to be a widow, because, presumably, there is no reason for a woman to leave her house on this day save desperation.

I noticed 3 types of women’s dress, the chador, a more conservative working woman outfit, and a more fashion-forward style. In older parts of town and on holidays we saw many blue burqas but during the week we mostly saw type two, working women with long loose pants or a long skirt, a long-sleeved top which covers the rear and a scarf wrapped loosely around the head. Walking around town, most of the women we saw were going to and from work (the university was over winter break still) and chose this style in earthy colors. The last category I saw in upper class neighborhoods, and occasionally in fancy restaurants, it was very westernized with skinny jeans, pointy black boots to kill, a long sleeved top and a tight hijab often in loud colors with sparkles and jewels. I felt my clothes fit squarely into the middle category, however with my height, I think from behind I probably looked most like an Afghan man. It was very cold and it is not uncommon for a man to tie a scarf around his head during the winter. Their traditional dress is actually quite similar to the women’s.

We were quite the spectacle nonetheless, in a country where one’s ethnicity is easily identifiable by their face and dress, we were a blonde woman taking pictures, a fair man in khakis and a tall black woman. We were tourists, but in a country with such little tourism, no one could place us. So they stared. and stared. and stared. Children would stare, old men would stare, the few women we saw would stare. I didn’t know what it was that made them stare, had they never seen a black person? Someone so tall? A blonde? Was my hair showing? In these situations I was glad I had my headscarf, I would avert my gaze and pull the scarf across my mouth. This is a traditional response to unwanted attention and seemed to bring people’s attention to the fact that they were staring. Sometimes they didn’t stop, but at least they knew they’re were making me uncomfortable. In a world were manners and respect are so important, this tactic seemed to work wonders. In addition to hiding in plain sight, pulling the scarf over my mouth helped keep me from breathing in the thick Kabul dust and the smell of diesel on the road or heating gas inside.

Inside the guest house I would often wear a hoodie, it was difficult for me to brush and plait my hair every morning because it was so cold that overnight it wasn’t guaranteed to dry. Normally my hair is pretty large and in charge so this was a daily challenge. But I found I was rewarded with a new fashion accessory. It may sound inappropriate but I feel that after this experience I can safely integrate the hijab into my wardrobe in situations where I might be more comfortable with it. When I landed in Dubai, I stood on an escalator next to a woman who was literally wearing what I had on for underwear, skinny jeans and a nude camisole (over which I had a long skirt and a large sweater). I had decided I would take off my hijab when i felt comfortable doing do, sitting next to a muslim couple on the plane to DC it didn’t feel right or respectful to take it off. Walking through security the woman asked I could take my scarf off, I said I’d rather not. Finally in New York, walking around with two heavy bags I got hot and changed my clothes to haggle with a Jamaican woman about getting on an earlier flight. My hair looked horrible.

When I leave my room I still like having my hood up, and it’s been raining so I’ve had a good excuse for my scarfy/hoodie look. As a westerner I always wanted to wear the hijab but felt it would be offensive, maybe it still is, but now it feels comfortable and appropriate to me. It’ll fade but I’m happy to have it in the mix.