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Just a little different
I don’t think I ever truly understood what different was. I’d overheard it a million times and didn’t really bother to think about it. I knew one thing for sure. Different wasn’t good. Different was that middle aged skinny Hispanic man that sat on the side of 34th street every morning on the way to school in the just above-the-knee navy blue shorts and yellow GAP baseball hat always slightly titled to the left side. “Different” my dad had said, to the egg salad my mom made with non-fat miracle whip instead of the full fat version he’d become so accustomed to.
As child my olive tone, sun kissed skin could have easily been associated with the scorching Florida summer sun, my sweaty hair bounced on my bare shoulders covered by only thin blood orange spaghetti straps. Just like all the other 7 year olds hanging upside-down from the rusty monkey bars. At lunch, I swapped Oreo’s for chunky chocolate chips ahoy, and ate PB&J just like all the other kids in my class. I didn’t know that the other kids didn’t speak Arabic at home, or watch Tamer Hosny on Nile Drama T.V., or that the creamy béchamel oven baked pasta I loved so much was likely foreign my peers. I didn’t know Lindsey’s Twizzler strawberry blond hair and sea-weed green eyes made her the only non-Arian in her whole family. I didn’t know Amanda’s roasted coffee colored skin was reminiscent of her Filipino background. I was the same as everybody else, and everybody else was the same as me.
As I got older things started to change. Amanda, Lindsey and I always went to the beach on our birthdays just the three of us. “Best Friends Forever” our pink and blue woven dollar store bracelets said. But this year at the beach, while both of them flaunt their new12 year old girl hips in their tiny yellow and brown polka- doted bikinis complete with padded chests, I become more concerned with modesty. Insisting if I wear a yellow t-shirt and brown Bermuda shorts I’d be just the same as them. “No, Nora! You’ll look different”. Different. There it was. I quickly blow it off and reply “We still match guys, we’re still the same don’t worry about it”. On the car ride home Lindsey was demandingly quick to tell her mom “get 3 kinds of ice-cream - and not the cheap kind. We want fancy sundaes” and Amanda was soft-spoken and shy always gracefully taking the first thing offered. But even then we were all the same.
At 13 years old, wearing the Hijab was so natural. I mean it was just a shawl, and if it pleased God, why not? Or so I thought. My long shawl didn’t change me, it didn’t change Nora. My best friends started poking fun at my Baby Blue embroidered scarf, and pulling and tugging at its ends. Wherever I went people began to glare. Piercing Eyes watching every move I made. I didn’t even notice the attention till walking through Target Lindsey uncomfortably looking at me, whispers “Nora everyone is staring at you” .I naively ask “Why?” while shuffling through the sale racks, looking for anything long sleeve. “Cause, of your scarf, Nora you look so different”. Different. Different. There it was again. Had I magically become some freak over-night? Was I now different? The crazy accents people had started to talk to me in, the stares were they all from Hijab? At this point I wanted nothing more then to be the same, I considered taking off Hijab seriously more then once. Maybe people would stop asking me the ignorant questions, looking at me with sympathetic stares. I was convinced I could be the same again.
I started tying my scarves in funky ways to make it look like a bad hair day and a cool accessory, thinking people won’t know I’m Muslim. They’ll stop staring. Coming home from school one day, I was surprised when I was greeted by my older cousin ,Riham. She was 4 years older then me and I loved the way she had always so confidently wore her Hijab. Brightly colored sparkly scarves always perfectly matched her fashionable forever 21 loose tops, vivid undershirts and crazy styled skirts. She was the spitting image of a Fashionable yet modest Hijabi.
Her reaction when she first sees me with Hijab was exactly what I don’t want to hear.
“Noura! You look so different with Hijab!”
“Uhh I don’t want to be different”. I quickly replied.
“Ha well you are” she said in a sassy but joking way.
Looking at my now stern face she quickly tries to save herself “but hey we all are”.
“No, us. We’re different. Everyone else is the same” I insist.
“Look. We’re wearing Hijab. That makes you and I the same. In that perspective everyone else is different. We are all exactly the same, but totally different”.
I t was that moment when I realized I am different. But hey, so was Lindsey’s speaker phone voice and her strawberry blond Twizzler hair. So was Amanda’s deep coffee skin and her oh-so-quiet presence. I was different – but so was e