Should I give up
or should I just keep on chasing pavements,
even if it leads no where?
- Chasing Pavements
“We can’t walk down the main road with women who are less covered.”
It was just a normal sunny, burning morning when Leilani and I walk with a few Al-Hijra school teachers to finish up the Alphabet Project. The group includes four male teachers and two female teachers. We already spent 45 minutes walking to the Police Station and Hospital to take pictures (but return with none). Both of us were feeling frustrated by the lack of progress. Thus, we decided it is time to return to the school and take all the remaining pictures there. Leilani and I started heading towards the main road that us “wazungu” (foreigners) take daily from our lodge to the school. But before we got far, Peigei started calling us back, indicating we must walk the long road by the beach. Not comprehending the reason, we ask once again why we can’t take the main road. But all four male teachers insist on taking another route. Finally, we asked once again, “What is wrong with taking the main road?” Mr. T spoke up and said that very sentence. Mr. K specifically pointed out that Sudi, who is a native of Pangani, will be looked down upon by his friends and family if he is seen walking with us.
Although by now I have gotten used to the label of being a “mzungu,” being told that you’re such a shameful creature that no one wants to be seen walking with you is just another concept. As Leilani puts it, “they’re saying they don’t want to walk with two sluts.” Yea, something like that. According to her, I was quite flustered after hearing Mr.L’s statement. And I can’t deny I wasn’t.
Yes. I have been dressing less conservative ever since I have been studying in America, but I have never considered myself as dressing too promiscuously, definitely never identified myself as a slut. In Tanzania, I have never shown my shoulders or any skin below my kneecaps. But apparently, all that arm and ankles are already too much for Panganians to handle, given that you could see not a bit of skin but only the gleaming eyes of the ladies in the town.
It was first time in my life that I have to consider myself as a less dignified human being when compared to the other two female teachers solely because they are covered from head to toe and I am not. It had never occurred to me before how fortunate it was for me to be able to choose how to cover my body and have that freedom over my body. I was able to make statements like “today I feel sexy so I want to show a bit more skin,” or “I want to wear a shorter skirt because it’s hot,” or “I love how this strapless dress show off my collar bones” etc without being seen as someone less proper.
As someone who is studying Women’s Studies, I keep thinking – how is what I’m studying going to help or change this situation? At that very moment, Leilani and I didn’t say anything. Neither did the two female teachers. Is it because they agree with the men, that they don’t want to walk in the main road with us either? Or is it that they don’t see anything is wrong? Or is it because they are too afraid to say something? I didn’t saying because I don’t know how exactly to change four men’s mind if they’re already so “closed.” How will I be able to argue with them if covering up your skin is something your religion and society constantly tells you to do? Maybe an outsider won’t do it. What can we do when these comparably more educated and open-minded females of the society remain silence?
While the western world is fighting hard on all these fancier aspects of women rights like equal wage and abortion, I feel astonished that there is nothing to be done at this part of East Africa. So, do we keep chasing pavements?