“Each time a woman stands up for herself, she stands up for all women.”
The above quote is from Maya Angelou, who always cheers me up with her “Come on, take action!” punchlines; I wanted to begin on a hopeful note.
Each person is a unique story and the world is a round book. Make yourselves comfortable, if you’re ready it’s time for my story – one still being written. Where and when I was born, my age, names and cities don’t matter; just hear me out, I wish to be understood.
I grew up as a believer because they wanted me to. Despite all the gossip, violence, judging, deciding on behalf of others, swears and the abuse they turned a blind eye to, they were the best Muslims. Islam was just 5 prayers a day, fasting and the religion-based holidays for them. The Qur’an could only be read in Arabic, it’s meaning could never be debated, and others would never be listened to.
With such a mindset, they told me “No more wearing shorts” when I started middle school. No, my bad, I had never worn shorts in the first place; what silly clothes I had was always below my knees. In high school, it was “Cover your hair or we will make you do it”. In my final year of high school, I became a hijabi voluntarily if you ask them, mandatorily if you asked me. It felt wrong, as if I were a strange soul gasping for breath in a different body. Months passed and I started college. I said, “I can’t live like this.” I told them it had nothing to do with “trying to show off my body”, I just couldn’t do it.
Me against my mom, dad, and sister. They didn’t get it: Their responses ranged from “You’re possessed by a demon” to “You are being hysteric” to “Something’s wrong with your head”. (Yes, that one was true because I had been molested as a child.), even to threats of violence sprinkled in between their “We’ll follow you wherever you go”. Yet the most painful bit was when they told me “We’re responsible for you until you’re married off, when you get married you can take it off if your husband allows you to.” – as if I’m some object in their hands. You can imagine, I suppose, how hurt I was. Despite all their threats and fearmongering, I had begun a fight against them and my major depression. When I went back to my college town, I took to wearing a bandana first and then took it off entirely despite dozens of judging looks. Freedom. I was as light as a feather, a feather!
And my family? That’s when it all began, the mother of all threats. I was being followed. I started to act like I was still a hijabi. I told them how I didn’t like photographs, to avoid having to send any – the irony is on them, I’m an amateur photographer and they don’t even know it. I wished I could share my loveliest memories with them, if only for that rag I was forced to put on my head. I am tired of seeking a quiet restroom every time I go out, tired of the paranoia, tired of the heavy bag I have to carry all the time, tired of hiding my clothes. I am t-i-r-e-d!
My final chance was when I went abroad on an internship. All hell broke loose then, and still they didn’t listen to me. When I came back my mom found and tore apart one of my pants, threw it into a bag while threatening to kill me. I took a button from it and I wear it as a necklace: as a memento to remind me to keep moving on without being silenced, without being put down. I’ve been back for 3 weeks and every day I try and find a way to get out of here. You know what’s worse than being two people in one body? Living in fear of being forever stuck in that body.
Resist girls, we are not alone! There is me who doesn’t know you but loves you and understands you. Forget me not!
(Image: Colleen Tighe)