Day 3 is finished. The day started out completely normal, Jeff took Obi to preschool, and Guinny and I went to an appointment and then to Walgreens before picking Obi up from school. I went to Walgreens solely for the purpose of looking at the 70% off Valentines candy…sad I know. On the way into the store a man who was walking out was majorly staring at me, and I thought to myself…is he checking me out? and then I remembered, oh wait I’m wearing hijab!
Upon entering the store we of course went straight to the clearance Valentines section. Standing a few feet away from us was a man, probably in his 60s, with over-sized rectangle sunglasses (fit for a 20 year old) setting upon his white brushed back hair. He looked over at us and said, “Am I in your way?” and I replied with a smile, “Nope…I’m here solely for the candy”, we both chuckled. He started a very long one sided conversation with me that included, but was not limited to, how he proposed on Valentine’s day, how he used to be a teacher, and evolved into a story about him taking his family to Disney World and waiting in 50 minute lines for rides, noting that the “Frozen” line was a 2.5 hour wait. He then asked if my daughter liked Frozen, and I said of course! He then showed me a couple of Valentine themed, twirling lollipop holders of Anna and Olaf and informed me that they were only $1.79 each and asked if I wanted him to grab a couple off the top shelf or not. I said sure and he said, “Hang on a sec, let me go around to the other aisle and grab them from the back, because you know all of the ones in the front have been played with and the batteries are worn down”. I was chuckling to myself the entire time, but also thinking what a sweet man!
After our trip to the store we went on our way to pick Obi up. I am happy to report that there was no running away or hiding from Obi today, he didn’t even ask if I was going to take off the hijab when we got home 🙂
This is where it gets interesting. Rewinding one day…my mom called yesterday and asked if the kids and I would want to go swimming with her and some of my siblings at the YMCA on Friday night. I excitedly replied SURE, and quickly realized how complicated that was going to be. What was I going to wear? I couldn’t wear a hijab with a tankini, that would NOT properly represent my Muslim friends. Then I thought I could where a long sleeved shirt with full length lycra workout pants in the water with hijab. This was going to be a challenge. Swimming was the LAST thing on my mind when committing to wear hijab for 40 days in the winter!
I once again asked my dear friend Nermeen for help and let me tell you, I couldn’t pull any of this off without this woman! It just so happens that she and her family recently took a trip to the Bahamas…and she owns a burkini! Oh, you don’t know what a burkini is? Well, you’re about to find out. The entire 3 piece suit is made out of a lycra/swimsuit material and it covers a person from head to ankle. No joke. I was excited and nervous…did I mention that my mom lives in Pekin? And that we were going to the YMCA in PEKIN.
Now, if you don’t know anything about the town of Pekin, Illinois, I did a little Yahoo search on your behalf. I typed “Pekin il racism” into the search engine and the first article that came up was entitled, “Easter Eggs Spread Racist Message” from 2009. You can read it here. I’m not saying Pekin is all bad, but it has an unfortunate reputation. I mean, even when I start to type the word Pekin into a message on my iPhone, this appears…
Moving on…as we all arrive at the YMCA for our family swim date, I notice a man walking in behind us. He was probably about my age, sporting a beard, along with a cammo hat and coat. This is where my judgmental, paranoid self starts to slip in. I think to my self, “oh great, a Pekin guy wearing cammo, who is probably racist, and probably hates me and wants to choke the life right out of me”. What a horrible person am I?!?!?!
We go on into the pool area, where I quickly realize that there were way more people there than I was expecting…or hoping. And Cammo Man sat in a chair right near the shallow end of the pool with a couple whom I assume were his parents. I asked my mom to observe people as we were swimming because I was simply curious of the reactions that my lovely swimwear would get. Believe me, there were PLENTY of stares, I didn’t need my mom to tell me that. But don’t worry, I jumped right into the pool…like this…
A funny side note…my sister Jenna is 23 years old and has autism. She has a love for the color green, jewelry, tornadoes, and running half marathons. She is lovely and unique. She assumed that my swimsuit was designed to keep me from getting a sunburn…and I assured her that it would! All night she kept talking about how much she loved my suit and even told our mom that she really wanted one…in green. I said, “Jenna! Imagine wearing this swimsuit in GREEN! You would look like an alien!” It was HIL-AR-I-OUS.
Anyway…It just so happened that a friend from church was there with her two daughters…but I had to get super close to her before she recognized me because she wasn’t wearing her glasses! We had a lot of fun…even with all of the stares from Cammo Man and his parents. At one point I swear I saw them motioning to each other about my swimwear!
About halfway through our time there, I noticed that Cammo Man and his dad got up and went outside. This is where I get very real and vulnerable with you. Unfortunately my mind went straight to this…
I hope they aren’t going outside to wait for me in the parking lot. Seriously, I am that lame. And yes, my mom stared at me nervously when they got up and walked out. There were some very real butterflies in my stomach. You see, I pride myself in not judging Muslim people in my own community, but when I see someone wearing cammo I assume they are closed minded and maybe racist. Obviously this is something that I need to work on.
After finishing up in the pool and my mom and I having a nice conversation with a couple of women in the locker room, my church friends daughter came up to me and said, “I wish we could spend more time together”. How sweet is that? I told her that I had a great time and assured her that I would see her on Sunday.
As we exited the locker room and walked out by the front desk, I noticed that none other that Cammo man, his parents, and his 4 year old daughter were sitting in the waiting area. As I passed by Cammo man said to his daughter in a sweet voice, “Say bye”. She did and I said bye right back to her. Pile those burning coals right on my head why don’t ya?
I am far from perfect. And I realized just that tonight. I talk all about being open minded and not judging people by their appearance and I did that exact thing tonight. Here’s to learning more about really being open minded, and accepting toward ALL people, even Cammo man.