I arrived without incident, the 12-hour plane ride which had caused me so much anxiety turned out to be rather simple – you stay awake long enough for dinner, pop a sleeping aid of some kind, knock yourself out for six or so hours and wake up with enough time left to watch a movie or chat with the person next to you…who in my case, turned out to be one of the more interesting people I’ve had the pleasure of meeting lately. She was wearing niqaab, something which I’m afraid I still always judge – not in the way you might think, rather, when I order a glass of wine, I assume the judgement is on myself.
Mind you, I’m quite used to hijab and have friends on a varying spectrum of piety who wear it. But that’s precisely the thing – there’s wide-ranging variance, whereas when a woman covers her entire face, you assume automatically that religion is #1 in her life. It most likely is – but I need to learn not to assume that religion being #1 implies judgement on others. Oddly enough, I think this prejudice comes more from being around fundamental Christians than Muslims. Muslims, in my personal experience, are less likely to judge outsiders – being just that, outsiders, whereas the more extreme Christians just don’t get why Jesus isn’t my savior.
Eventually, food arrived, and she asked me for sugar – which is when I realized she was American. African-American specifically, which was only notable in our later discussion. As it turns out, she and her five children were moving to Yemen for the year…and it was their first time out of the United States, ever.
Every day, I learn something about putting aside my own prejudices and judgements. In this case, my judgement was that she would judge me, but as it turns out, we ended up having a great two-hour conversation about American misconceptions of Islam, moving abroad, the daily things you get to know and put up with when moving to another country for the first time. She asked me all sorts of questions that reminded me of things that I loved about living in Morocco. I shared the many things I loved and the many things I didn’t. And we discussed why Yemen of all places. Saudi was too strict, too racist, North Africa never even came up, the Emirates too rich. Yemen seemed traditional, slow-paced, a good wholesome place to raise children.
She impressed me. I have pre- and mis-conceptions like everyone else, and I guess what I can’t see through a veil I often disregard, but that conversation, and the woman I met because of it, remind me of why you just have to live your life for what you want. I understand her wanderlust – we are closer as people because of that, our differences diminished by our shared mentality.
After we got off the plane, I lost track of her and her lovely family. But every person you meet, every kindred spirit, is a reminder of how small this world really is. On to Dimashq!