When I was teaching in Seattle, there was an African immigrant who used to some to me for help with English class papers he was working on. Some pages I will never forget started with: “One day the biggest rocket I ever saw came over our house.” Then his road trip began, descriptions of moving from camp to camp, living in tents . . . riots and fires – thieves. I meant to make a copy of his story, but never got around to it, a significant loss. It was so well said, so simple, honest, no embellishments. “This is what happened….” An incredible sequence of events.
There are some fun moments in my Swedish class when we recite. One of the most macho Somalis told us, “My boyfriend is living with my wife.” This in Swedish of course. We all cracked up, a great, long-winded, honest, laugh-out-load. I’ve had a pretty good attitude this week, and feel okay about this Friday’s test. It was four pages, the last of which I hadn’t studied, having misunderstood previous instructions again. I was clueless, but not too bad on the first three pages.
I was in school an hour early once this week, a day when my class started late. The school has a spacious, comfortable area to hang out in, soft chairs, a couch, and tables under a high, glass ceiling. A good place to meet and talk with friends. I was reading a book to kill some time across from a long table full of Somalia girls in a wide variety of dress, some in jilbabs, their happy faces peaking out. A couple wore more western outfits, others in various states of dress born of a no-man’s land between the two cultures.
One of their friends came bounding down three steps into the lobby, giddy with delight, wearing a weird pair of colorful Bermuda style shorts, and a fancy blouse of many colors. Another Somali followed her entrance dressed in equally modern, if not so blatant attire – a skirt. The were having a wonderful time of it, dancing, twirling around and laughing. Look at me!
I’m thinking, what must that be like? To be free of that tent you’re wearing all your life? I guess they don’t wear them at home. I see paranoids on Facebook, worried European women will take up this middle eastern male’s definition of what women should wear. I don’t think so. Try to get even two European women to wear the same outfit . . . let alone thousand.
I don’t mind the jilbas. The women seem happy and at ease in them. It’s a relief not to have to scan body types as they pass by, that male Pavlovian response. I can stop looking now. I’ve seen enough and forgotten too little. I suspect these Mideast customs for female apparel will eventually morph into more European styles, if only for the freedom of movement, driving car, or office work . . . operating a computer . . . machines. But the gals are good inside those things, been in them all their lives. I guess you’d have to be. It will take years for change to happen, if it ever does. Who knows what’s next.