Let’s imagine these three young women above walking into a job interview at an international organization in your country. The three of them fit the job criteria. Which one of them is most likely to receive the opportunity? Why?
Now let’s imagine these three women outside work. Which one draws “suspicion” in public places? Whose privacy is most likely to be violated? Why?
Is this fair?
Are you a part of the problem or the solution?
Eight hours before my flight, I cross items off my checklist. I go through everything in my luggage, and decide to put a book titled “Allah’s Mountains” back on the bookshelf.
Five hours before my flight, I phone the closest people to me to calm my nerves down.
Four hours before my flight, airport anxiety hits me. I lie in bed unable to sleep.
I go through my newsfeed: Malala, the Kardashians, ISIS, Donald Trump (??) and welcome December posts are all over Facebook.
I’d later learn that a friend I was yet to make in the city I’m heading to stayed up all night too before her flight, worried about the plane being attacked by “Islamists”.
My family has the talk with me before leaving. “Avoid talking about politics or religion. Just world peace, and non-personal matters.”
Talking about world peace, the friend I was yet to make will tell me that in her university, students in Burka are feared: “We feel like we never know what they could be hiding beneath. I’d run when I see them. ”
In Amman, two hours before my flight, I check my baggage. “The purpose of my visit is a short term youth training.” The officer at the passport control looks unconvinced with the explanation of a twenty year old female who’s traveling by herself. He finally wishes me well and lets me pass.
I arrive to Istanbul about two and a half hours later. Ataturk Airport is crowded as it usually is year-round.
In the European city I arrive to, I meet a taxi driver by the airport’s exit. I point to the address in my invitation.
On our way, he asks me where I came from.
“Jordan” I answer.
“Are you Muslim?”
“Do you wear the headscarf in your country?”
My answer is followed by a moment of silence. “I respect Jordan because it stands against terrorism. I hope to visit Petra one day.”
I arrive at my accommodation. I’m greeted warmly. I fall asleep after the eight hour trip as soon as I reach the bed.
During the chit-chats between the trainees, I’m asked questions similar to what I was asked throughout the journey.
“How’s life in Jordan?”
“Life is interesting. ” I answer.
“Are you threatened by ISIS?” A factual answer is too long for a chit-chat. ” We are doing well. I hope things turn to the bright side for Syria and Iraq.”
We continue talking about university, traveling, and current affairs. I and the rest of the Middle Eastern participants have no issues following up with these subjects; people around the world have more in common than they think they do. To not realize that is to fail in making valuable friendships.
I’m later asked to introduce myself with a short presentation. I talk about the Circassians in Jordan and what I do in life. Women’s rights in my community are particularly interesting to my fellows; in my community, women and men enjoy equal rights to education, employment and make personal decisions.
The outcome of my presentation is the following:
To people from any former USSR state, I’m Caucasian.
To Arabs, I’m a non-Arab Jordanian.
Turks were surprised to learn about Circassian communities living in Arab countries. “We thought you only lived between Turkey and Caucasus” two Turks explained.
Turks and Arabs have something in common: They’ve lived with Circassians for generations, but little to nothing is known to them about the genocide and exile of this nation.
To the rest, I’m a non-Russian born in Russia storyteller.
As for my rapidly changing young self, I know for certain that where I’m from made me. I know that while my body traveled, my heart remained in the mountains of my homeland. I know that if not for where my story started, I’d have no message or higher purpose.
My presentation went well. I had the advantage of knowing three widely spoken languages around the world. To know someone’s mother tongue shortens the emotional distance between the two of you and brings you closer. I achieved my aim of drawing curiosity and attention towards my cause. When I’m finally asked about my religious views, the word “Muslim” doesn’t “scare” anyone off.
Because we aren’t that different after all, are we?
Now that it’s all over, I wonder, would I be heard if my name was Fatima, and my skin was darker, and my hair was covered? Would I be treated the same if my name was Bonnie, and had a western passport, and nothing to explain, defend or prove to the rest of the world?
Finally, am I a part of the problem or the solution? Hopefully, the solution.
Amman, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan