tmbt remembered: burkha freedom
It was nine days into the trip when I first encountered them. The large cascading cloaks of black fabric falling crown to sidewalk and billowing out from the frames of the women they held hidden and seeming to hover just above their hems, nearly beyond recognition, and with the graceful flutter of freedom. Freedom. That is the first thought the came into my mind when I saw them and the one that lasted amidst the others: grace, mother, love, safety. Second only to freedom, or perhaps the foundation of the freedom, the thought moved to safety.
Having just tipped over the half-way mark of my sixteen-day romantic getaway to Morocco, the home of my boyfriend’s paternal lineage, what I was beginning to want and need more than sea water, more than romance, and more than air itself sometimes, was safety. Safety from the thousands of eyes on my blonde head, begging to tie ropes to my light eyes, and sizing up the strong man who held fast my arm at all times in their presence. Safety. Safety and freedom. Freedom from the queasy unknowing of three languages I did not know, from the food brought and cleared without preference asked, from the sudden taking of leave without warning to the always only woman in the group, from emails sent with every word typed and erased under his watchful eyes. Freedom. Freedom and escape. Escape from the salty salty too-low Mediterranean waves, from the bed of my changed Arabic lover, from the escape itself to another country from the sadness I thought I would leave in Colorado, if only for sixteen days. Escape. and peace. Peace to be found in aloneness, to be found in the simple preparation of my own food, in possibility, the potential of long hours of conversation with another woman who spoke my language. I wanted the peace of these things and so much more. But above all on that day, being accompanied up a long hill towards Tetuan, Morocco, I wanted peace from the stares, the penetrating and often threatening stares that met me there on those streets day after day, night after night.
Looking up to see those burkha-clad women floating towards me was like seeing angels, angels and answers. And suddenly all contempt for the conservative practice that is rare even in the Arabic nation of Morocco, fell away, replaced by respect, even a little jealousy, and certainly a rekindled sadness for the unexpectedly vulnerable condition I found myself in and by contrast, fed with the exhibition of my features, my figure, my difference. I remember the light absorbed and reflected off their meters and meters of fabric, the glaze of the dust-filled air around us all, the tug on my hurried arm to our destination, the speed of the cars inches from our path, the thirst in my mouth under the northern African summer heat, and the burst of joy at seeing that safe haven, if not for me than at least for them, for their hearts, for their minds, for their beauty.
Some days, I want to not be seen by a soul, to cover my every inch in black and walk the streets free from the sizing up, free from the sucking in of guts, free from my own vain smoothing of hair, and free from the hope of being seen as beautiful. I suppose in many ways, the burkha wears me every day in small ways; it is with me in my averted eyes, my closed office door, my avoidance of telephone calls, my makeup, my minced words. Sometimes it is out of anxious fear that these hiding rituals come into play. In all honesty, this is true more often than not. But sometimes, I simply want the freedom to move through life without feeling the prying and pushing eyes, without the option of worrying about the opinions behind those eyes – so that I can hear only the dance of my own true thoughts, my own full inner beauty, my own opinions about what I see.
Perhaps I over-romanticize the life behind the burkha, but I cannot help but want the hyper-sensitive self-awareness ingrained in me as part of being an American woman since a very young girl taken away, if even by force. I suppose it is my meditation practice, and studied building of confidence day after day that would give me the kind of freedom I think I would find under the draping of that sweet sweet shroud. Perhaps I’ll arrive at that level of ease one day. But today, I’ll settle for the remembrance of beauty I felt in that moment in Tetuan when I saw the answer to the barrage I felt there. It really was such a beauty to behold.
Photo by Steve Raymer/Corbis