[Keep Calm and Wear Hijab]
The struggles of a hijabi girl
I was scrolling down my contacts, desperately trying to find a mate who would be free and willing to hang out with me. "Nadia! Bingo!"
I gave her a call, begged her to come with me and keep me company for my day trip into the city. She comes from a very strict Muslim family so they don’t allow her much freedom. Requesting a simple day trip to the city is like asking them for permission to go clubbing. They will freak out and start assuming the worst. It's crazy, I know. So to avoid all that, I suggested a plan.
”Hey, Nadia, listen. I know your Mum won’t allow you to bus to the city just for the fun of it, so why don’t you tell her there's an open day at Auckland Uni and you're keen to see what it's all about to give you an idea for your degree next year?”
“Oh yup, not bad, not bad. Sounds like a legit reason and Mum won’t question it. So where do you wanna meet and what time?”
“Well, I was hoping we could meet at Smales Farm; let’s say around 8:30am?”
”Cool beans, just need to go get ready. I have to take at least 30 minutes getting my hijab on. I learned this new style last night while watching a YouTube tutorial on different ways to style your hijab. I still struggle but, man, is it chic looking! Can’t wait for you to see it. Seriously, the struggle is too real for us hijabi girls.”
”Nadia, save the chitchat for when I actually see you, yeah?“
I arrive at Smales Farm, fifteen minutes earlier than planned, but that's ok. It gives me plenty of time to check the bus timetable and which one is most convenient to catch.
I see a few heading to Britomart, and one heading to AUT, which would be suitable since it's the heart of the city. Plus, I don’t go to the city that often; AUT seems the most familiar for now. Finally, I see Nadia getting dropped by her older sister at the bus station.
”Oh, you weren’t wrong! The hijab looks great, girl!“ - first thing I said when I saw her.
“Oh stop it, you! It took some time. Got there eventually, though, but for real, how amazing does it look?”
I knew complimenting her would get her big-headed. But I don’t mind, it puts a smile on her face and I owe her big time for dragging her along with me.
“Which bus are we catching and where are we going? Come on, girl, give me the deets” (she could have just said details).
“Yeah, ok, hold up! Just need to doublecheck to see if that bus will actually take us to our destination.”
“Oh god, Amani, get over yourself! You”re making it sound like we're travelling for real, so just relax; we're going like fifteen minutes away from Glenfield. Jesus.”
She thrives on testing me; she loves making witty remarks and waiting in silence for my reaction. I'm always so hot and bothered with her comments and that's what gets her going. She means well, though.
We sat in silence, waiting for our bus to arrive. She was too silent and that's very rare if you've actually met Nadia.
“Amani, you barely give me any likes on Instagram and I know for sure you see my photos everyday.”
Ok, maybe I spoke too soon; I knew her silence wouldn’t last for long.
”I always see you active on there, I swear, liking everyone else's photos except mine.” She spent a good five minutes telling me off while scrolling down her newsfeed.
Finally, the bus arrived. We got on. The bus driver gave Nadia the most welcoming and heartwarming smile I have ever seen, and as for me, he just shrugged me off. Rude much? But whatever, perhaps it's the hijab? She seems to get a lot more respect and nicer greetings with it on. Even when another Muslim stranger walks by, they will look up and give her a smile, followed by the greeting ”Al salam o alaukum”. It's nice to see, but I can't help but feel left out sometimes. I guess that's the price I pay for choosing not to wear it.
“Let's sit at the back, I love sitting there,” she said in an obnoxiously loud voice.
Oh man, she reminds me of my high school self. Every day after high school I would rush with my friends to the back. There's just something about the back seat, I don’t know what exactly, but if you were to ask me now - hell, no. Walking all the way to the back, wobbling to the left and right while the bus drives off just to get there, and at what cost? No, thank you.
”Nah, let”s just sit here,” I grabbed her wrist and pulled her back.
”Jeeeez, ok, don’t need to manhandle me,” she sniggered.
The seats I chose were the awkward type that everyone tries to avoid. They were facing two old ladies. It hadn’t even been a minute since we sat down and already one of the older ladies was commenting on Nadia's hijab.
”That's a very nice head piece; it looks so elegant. Did you do it yourself?”
“Awwww, thank you soooo much!! Really? You think so? I mean I don’t know, it was very rushed, didn't get much time to actually perfect it but that's so sweet of you.”
In my head, all I could think was: Lies, lies, and lies! She specifically made the effort to actually YouTube hijab tutorials and spent a good 30 minutes this morning trying so hard to nail it.
Nadia is one of those girls who likes to look and feel effortlessly pretty, but she spends hours on YouTube searching for the ”no makeup makeup look.” It sounds absurd, but it's basically a whole entire tutorial on how to apply makeup using a very light hand and very minimal beauty products to achieve a natural finish that looks like you have woken up flawless.
The old lady then asks, ”When it's hot, dear, how does this work? What exactly do you wear?”
“Oh, the struggle is too real; I try to avoid wearing the scarf in dark colours like black and brown and navy. I lean more towards the white and pastel pinks and blues. But the worst thing of all, the damn tan lines around my outer face. It's tragic really. But there are plus sides; I have never had a bad hair day.”
Both of them started laughing.
Finally, we arrived at the city.
”Amani, let’s go to the hookah bar. I feel like a smoke and perhaps some tea. Heard they started making good baklava, is that true?”
”I don’t know, and I'm not really that keen on going there. I promised myself I'll never smoke hookah again, the last time I did. It gave me the worst headache and I felt sick for hours, so never again. Not to mention the sleaziest, most desperate Arab men hang around in that café. So I'll pass."
”Let’s just go; give it another try. This time you're with a pro. I'll teach you how to smoke it properly.”
“Ok, fine, we”ll go.”
I felt that agreeing to go was the only way I could put an end to her nagging.
We walked into the café. The aroma of flavored tobacco was so strong, I was already getting a headache from just the smell of the place.
The owner was very friendly, too friendly in fact. He started greeting us: ”Would you like to take a seat outside or upstairs?” with the dodgiest smile on his face. It was disturbing.
“Ooh, let’s try upstairs.” Nadia's tone gave an impression of excitement.
As we walked up looking for seats, we saw a group of Arab men sitting down and having a huge feast. I looked over. Nadia's face went pale white, like she was starting to panic.
”Oh god, you all good?” I quickly turned to her.
“No!! Abort!! Abort!! My two older brothers are sitting at that table with their friends."
”Yeah and ... ??”
”What do you mean 'and?' - you're an Arab too, you should know by now that's an automatic death wish to be seen in such a place by your older brothers!”
She sounded so anxious: "I cannot be seen here, especially when I lied to my family about where I was going. And out of all places, I'm here! At a hookah café where I've been seen by everyone. It's like I'm asking to be killed. We need to leave this place now; otherwise I'm dead meat. I just pray to god they did not see me entering and leaving. Oh god, what if the owner knows me and tells my brothers? He's real good friends with them. I just hope he doesn’t snitch on me."
”Ok, first of all, relax; they were too busy eating to even notice either of us. And, second of all, whatever happens, you have me as backup. Let’s get our story straight: we went in to get some baklava and leave straight away to go the Auckland Uni Open Day. Problem solved. So chill, ok?"
”Ok, yeah, that's true; we weren’t doing anything bad anyway. God, I just hate being a Muslim Arab sometimes!"
“Yeah, it does have a lot of negatives but, hey, let’s not let this ruin our trip. Let’s go get some kebab rolls and baklava, but this time perhaps try to choose a café that has a white owner who has no ties to your older brothers.”
“Yeah yeah, very funny. Let’s just get out of here already.”
© Amani Hezam
[Emelia May: Hookah Bar]