Tuesday, December 25, 2007

my cover

My cover goodbye , i wil miss you .
2 weeks a go I uncovered my face. For six years, I had been wearing the niqab, the Muslim veil that hides your face, leaving just the eyes exposed. I live in Rafah city in the Gaza Strip.

When I went to the shop with my sister, the same grocery shop we go to every day after work, the assistant asked my sister, is this another sister? Where is Fida? Is she OK?
My sister said, pointing at me, Yes, she is okay and, actually, she is here. The assistant didn't believe it. Not till I spoke to him and even then he couldn't believe I had taken off the niqab.
I teach at a children's centre. My students were staring at my face in disbelief, but all of them said, It is better, teacher. And I feel better too; at least the people know to whom they talking and they can see who is talking to them. I didn't always have this kind of confidence. It was in 2001 that I started covering my face, my first year in University. I started to wear the niqab because I was really timid with strangers and I got nervous when I spoke to men. Women here are supposed to be modest when they speak to men because we have a different style of life here, but I was very shy. At college, I found myself in a mixed male/female department. It was a first for me as Id been in an all girls primary school. Some of my male classmates started to call me tomato because my face would get red when I answered questions. I don't know why! Maybe a doctor can explain why some people blush and get confused and bashful.At first, my family wouldn't accept that I was wearing a niqab. Especially my dad. He told me Id never get a good job with a veil over my face, that I wouldn't be accepted in society. My mum and sisters who don't wear the niqab said its your decision. For those who don't know what is the difference between the scarf (Hijab) and face cover (Niqab)
Hijab means a scarf to cover the hair so people can see the face of the woman they are talking to. Niqab means scarf to cover the hair plus the face so people just can see the eyes. Some women even cover their eyes with a sheer piece of cloth but they can see through. As a joke, some people here call women with niqabs ninjas. Its a term I used to laughingly apply to myself!
Once when I was working with a group of Americans, interpreting. One of them saw a group of women who covered their eyes as well as their faces and said Fida! You will not go as far as them one day? Will you?
Many people here in Palestine and abroad asked me to take off the niqab because they liked me better without it. I remember one American friend, I interpreted for him and his group when they came to Gaza . He never saw my face. He said, I work with Fida-the two-eyes. To this day, it makes me laugh.
Life in the Gaza Strip differs from city to city, even if the differences are small. For example, where I live in Rafah city, I guarantee to you that you will not see a single woman walking in the street with out a scarf covering her hair.
But in Gaza city you can see a lot of women without the scarf, the hair cover – that's because its different there, its like the country capital, you find all types in it with cover, hijab or niqab, or without. But here in Rafah , no way. All women at least cover their hair. There have been reports that since Hamas came to power more women have been forced to cover up. I haven't seen that happen.
The good thing about the niqab is it really gives the woman confidence in her contact with other people. You can talk easily to anyone. I speak from my six years of experience. The cover was good for me – it gave me a real self-assurance. I don't know how to explain it, but I felt strong and secure. With the veil I have studied , become a teacher , a reporter, a camera woman, and interpreter .
I remember a woman from Poland who visited our neighbour. I was asked in to translate. As soon she saw me, this Polish woman ran to her husband. I could tell how much she was scared. Of me. I cant tell you how bad I felt. When she heard me speaking English and realized how much I respected her, we became friends. She was in Gaza for nine months and we often had a good time together. But from that time, I realized how many people were scared of me.
Why did I stop covering my face now, not before?
Say I had gone on TV wearing my niqab, I imagine millions of people would immediately assume she must be from Hamas. They wouldn't stop to separate Fida from what she is wearing. And I fear I would not be respected“ people will believe Im a member of Hamas. And I am not. I am a Palestinian woman, and I want to tell you, face to face, I am a human being who laughs and cries.
Our people made the decision to elect Hamas to government. The world didnt accept even though they sent observers who said the elections were free and fair.
Now we are called terrorists. Its unjust .

I was scared to write this piece because I know that a lot of sick people who hate Muslims will try to use it against Islam. They will say, oh, the women are not free and they are pushed to cover their faces. But let me tell you, we do what we want and we are are more free than they think. Me, I am free, and I reckon I have a lot more respect for people than someone like Mr George Bush. Let me explain one thing I am just like you. In your culture, you accept nuns and what's the difference between Muslim women covering up and nuns veils? One hundred per cent nothing. You know why? Because you have your religions and we have our religion and if you want to talk about terrorism, as you call it, I will tell you that you created the terrorism, not the Muslims. Its the actions of the west. Come here, come and see what's happening. Unless you know what its like in Palestine , its unfair to keep calling us terrorists.
I want to be a messenger for the Palstinians if my face is covered, it might scare you off. Or you might turn the page and the only thing you will think is, She is some Hamas mouthpiece, not She is a Palestinian who is suffering. And I need you to know that. In Palestine , we are suffering. It might sound boring because we say it so often but only because it is the truth.
This is my third day with out the cover. The first day I uncovered my face, my mum said, Fida, the niqab was better for you. My sisters didn't say anything. Things seem different. I don't know why, but I feel better . I think people need to know who's they talking to. Its not easy to wear the veil and then take it off as soon as you want, no; the society will not accept it easily. But for me the most important is me, to accept myself and what I'm doing. And others are now happy to see my face.