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Two Women in Burkas

ARTHUR NEAD ILLUSTRATION

Two women dressed head to toe in black burkas were getting on the same Delta flight, from Paris to Atlanta, that I was boarding.

Yes, I know about the proper political correctness and the unfairness of stereotypes, but there are some things that make fellow flyers squeamish.

France is a country that doesn’t allow faces to be fully covered in a public place, so you might think that the rules would be more stringent on a plane, but apparently not. The women and their entourage were stopped at a pre-entry security area, but after a few moments of checking documents they were allowed to board. Travelling with them were two men plus two toddlers (a boy and a girl) and a baby. Only the women were dressed culturally. The rest of the family was in totally western casual garb that made the juxtaposition to the two women even stranger.

Whoever booked their tickets obviously knew planes. They had secured a row of seats behind a bulkhead – the wall that divides sections. That is a good place for someone travelling with a newborn, because the wall has two hooks that can be used to attach a crib. The disadvantage to the location is that it’s next to the restrooms, so people tend to congregate in the aisle there, as I did, while at the same time trying to be discreet in assessing the group. Both of the men looked like they could be comfortable at a football game tailgate party; the two toddlers were occupied with coloring books. The baby was totally cute, with puffy cheeks, and slept peacefully. Then there were the two women in black. They merely sat in their seats for nine hours, their world view was limited through the mesh that covered their eyes.

More than uneasiness, I felt sorry for them. What must it be like to live in a world in which even their children have more freedom than they have?

Then I notice that one of the burka women did something very modern. She pulled out an iPhone and began scrolling with her thumb. As the apps flashed by, she showed lots of scrolling experience and had many apps to choose from. Though she could use none of them while in airplane mode, the rolling apps at least provided distraction through the black mesh.

Down the row the toddlers continued with their crayons. I wondered if they ever asked why mom was dressed that way.

Because they were totally covered, there was little to be learned about the two women except for a fleeting moment. One of the women, the one with the iPhone, briefly turned her head toward me. For an instant our eyes made contact. She had strong, dark eyes that seemed to be outlined with light makeup. I would guess she was in her early 30s. The eyes seemed sad, but that might have just been the context in which I was seeing her. From what I could tell, she looked like she was quite pretty. Then she turned away.

As the plane began its descent, the baby was still soundly asleep. Maybe one day he’ll wake up to a more just world.

 

 

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