After a busy week in Michigan I made my way to New York for a short but eventful stopover in the City. I had slept for only two hours prior to traveling so I was pretty beat up from the get-go, but some napping on the plane and a little coffee (yuck) kept me going for at least the chief part of the day. Once there, I started my visit with an interview for Women’s eNews’ Ramadan special with the inspiring Hajer Naili; a fellow European, a journalist, and a model. Naturally, with the situation going on in Egypt as our meeting went down, we had a lot to discuss apart from her prepared questions. It is always a pleasure meeting bright, educated, and ambitious Muslim women, and she was no exception.
Next up (after considerable time spent checking Facebook, Twitter, and conventional news sources for Egypt updates), I had the pleasure of having dinner with no other than Sameer from Sameer’s Eats and a dear friend from the Granada program I attended earlier this summer. I then headed for some laughs at a comedy club with another sweetheart friend and fellow hijab blogger at ModHijabi, Sana, who so graciously let me crash at her place (thanks, girl), before ending the night with some fool (beans) and karkadeh (hibiscus drink) at an Egyptian-style venue (I was getting really sleepy and boring at this point).
The next day started relatively early with a photoshoot for a Norwegian magazine. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures yet, but you’ll see them soon enough. The photographer was a delight to work with, and I hope to repeat it soon again. My sister and I lunched at a cute Brazilian place before I headed to JFK to catch my flight to Geneva (which is where the “outrageous situation” occurred – more after the collage).
(What I’m wearing: Scarf: H&M, neck scarf: (some US store I basically never get stuff from so I forgot), oversized feather print shirt: Accessorize, scrunched bottom harem pants: ASOS, gladiator sandals: New Look, accessories: River Island, ASOS)
Ok, so now to the “situation”. I arrived to Geneva after hours of sleeping (the advantage of being totally exhausted when traveling is that one is knocked out on every flight and thus do not have to deal with the boredom of hours awake confined to a single seat), and spent the layover mostly napping as well. About 1.5 hours before my flight I thought to get myself closer to the gate, and so I proceeded to the passport control. Now being a citizen of an European country, I waited in one of the lines intended for these countries, where I shortly thereafter faced a female officer. I handed her my deep red, overused passport, which she aggressively flipped through to get to the picture page. Then she started screaming in French interspersed with English words, making gestures toward my head. “Take it off, take it off,” she demanded. I looked at her like she was out of her mind. “Excuse me, but this is completely outrageous. I’ve traveled for more than six years with this passport and my hijab without any problems in either the US, Europe or the Middle East, and now you are saying this?!” She kept yelling angrily, and so I stopped her male colleague. “Sorry sir, but your colleague here is being very unreasonable. She is asking me to remove my headscarf for no valid reason.” Her male colleague tried to convince me that this whole thing was Swiss law, and that since I in fact do not have a hijab on my passport picture due to it having been issued half a year before my putting it on, I must remove it, or at least expose my hairline for recognition purposes. He continued to reason that since I obviously had chosen it for myself since I didn’t wear it before, I should have no problem taking it off for them (really now?!).
In the end I agreed to show my hairline to the infuriated woman behind the counter provided that this was done in an enclosed space with only her present. “Of course, this policy of yours is based solely on your wish to see a Muslim woman take of her hijab as no other official has struggled to identify my face without a visible hairline. Despite your blatant discrimination, however, I’ll be willing to do show it,” I sneered. Apparently, this was not enough for the female, who kept on screaming at me in her native tongue. “Hey, I need an English speaker – the French did not colonize enough countries to make the language required in schools across the world” I added, much to the lady’s dismay. My demands were efficient; as I was escorted to the room we were tailed by another male colleague who waited outside. Getting to that point nevertheless took 15-20 minutes.
Once inside the room, I quickly lifted the front of my turban so that the hairline Nazi would somehow magically recognize me as the person in the picture. Unfortunately, it did not seem to work. “Off! Off! Take it off!,” she thundered, gesticulating wildly. At this point, I was like puuuh-leezzze. “I’ve showed you my much valued hairline, and at this point you should be perfectly able to recognize me. Now let me go, lady!” She screamed at the top of her lounges “Off! This is absurd! You could hide a bomb… Cocaine under there! Off now!” I gave her a look like she had turned completely insane. “Really now? Your argument was identification purposes. Your colleague accepted that I show you my hairline. This is the reason we are in here. You don’t work in security so stop it. This is discrimination and you know it,” I snapped back with a raised voice. She kept screaming and I kept screaming back in refusal for some minutes until she finally gave up and opened the door to complain to her colleague about how “unbelievable” I was. I walked out feeling half way victorious but still shaking in shock over the treatment I received. What if I was not the demanding, difficult person I am? What if I would have given in – people commenting on my Facebook status said this is in fact a quite normal phenomenon in France, where many Muslim women end up feeling forced to remove their headcover right there and then, in front of everybody. I thank God for my stubbornness which again saved the day.
Fortunately, my anger and disbelief was soon washed away by getting on my EgyptAir flight to Cairo, Egypt… But still; outrageous and highly unacceptable.