7 Lessons I've Learnt as a Hijabi Traveler

I've been to a few places since I was 13 years old. Sometimes with my family, but most of the times on my own. And for all the journeys I've ventured during the last eight years, I've been always wearing my hijab.

This is one of the hardest things I always want to share here, because I realise the fear every muslim girls with hijab has to face when abroad. With the word Islamophobia is getting more and more fame every year, I cant deny how scared I was when I had to go to Paris last year and it was just a week after Charlie Hebdo shooting happened. 

But, we all muslim women with hijab are just like every traveler in the world. We have the same right to explore all the existing places on this earth and there's no stopping for us. 

That's why I keep going places, that's why I will never think my hijab could stop me from learning about this strange planet called Earth. And within this post, I just simply want to share a few things  I learned about people and my hijab during all my journeys.

1. I most probably have had the wrong idea, but the world is filled with so, so many beautiful souls.
As I keep thinking how much rude stares and comments I will get in public places along the journey, how I keep playing scenarios in my head how people wouldn't talked to me because of the thing on my head; I was totally wrong. On Christmas Eve 2008 in Arroyo Grande, California where I spent it in a church because my host-dad is a senior pastor there; I was beyond surprised how everyone welcomed me with warm hugs which could melt me away and asking me with literally full of curiosity because "I am the Girl who Comes from Indonesia", not "I am the Muslim Girl who wear Hijab and Went to Church Celebrating Christmas Completed with Hijab On".

I still remember that time I just got out from the church library to meet up with my host-parents and a few people came into my direction with all smiles on their faces, "Are you Nerissa? Welcome to California!" or "Do you like America? It must be a little different from Indonesia, but please enjoy your first Christmas here!"

This is one thing I always try remember that everything in this world is already set up in pairs. Black and white. Up and down. Left and right. So are good and bad.

2. The way people treat me depends on the way I treat them.
I'm being totally honest here; I've never ever, ever experienced anybody being rude to me (when I approach them first). 

Travelling solo means there's nobody you can depend on besides yourself and that happened a lot to me when I was lost in the middle of foreign land where nobody speaks my language. I have no choice but to ask anybody around me. But the thing is, if I don't make my hijab is an issue, they wouldn't either. In Paris when I was looking for Shakespeare & Co, I asked a woman who didn't look so busy with smile and polite gesture and what did I have back? Friendly smile and lovely conversation! She even took me to the bookstore!

I mean, don't be afraid of something that is only happening inside your head. It's only in your head, the fear you're scared of. We just need start nicely and we might be surprised how strangers on the street could turn out to be one of your best friends.

3. The warm and familiarity feeling I got when encountering fellow Muslim travellers or locals.
This is my favourite things I always stumble into during my trip everywhere.
Being called out, "Salaam, sister!" in the middle of busy market in the city or getting a half-priced ice cream because the lovely lady was so happy finally meeting a muslim customer. 

Sometimes I'm still thinking about the first night I was in London and I had no idea which bus would take me home and I was stranded at the bus stop for around an hour and my phone died I couldn't call any emergency number and there I saw a man who I thought has been aware about me. I asked him directly and there, he just got into the same bus and helped me until I reached my front door. Later on he told me that he's also a muslim and it was nice knowing there's a girl with hijab in our neighbourhood.

4. Some of them only knew our religion from what they've seen on tv and they're just genuinely curious about it.
And that moment, it's only us Muslims can give them the answers. 

On the first day at school in London, my teacher asked me right away, without asking anything first: "Nerissa, I've been reading this article everywhere and I just can't get the logical reason behind it. Please tell us why Prophet Muhammad can not be animated?" and I'm 100% sure it was my hijab telling him that I am a muslim.

"Oh my God WHY???!!!" I screamed inside my head.

I felt so bad that day because I couldn't answer. Later at night I called my mom for an answer and the next day I came to the class proudly and told him right away. 

Or, when almost everyone I knew at school asking me, "so, Nerissa, why the other Indonesia girls who are also muslims aren't wearing hijab, but you are???" and you know, this is a simple question but if you can't answer it correctly and wisely, it could lead you to a misunderstanding circumstance. And here again, your task is only to be a good Muslim agent. Tell them why are you wearing that weird clothing on your head; tell them that you are doing this because it's so much more than the symbol of your religion and faith; that it's your identity; that's you're wearing it because you know you have the responsibility about it; that nobody can look down on you just because you're wearing it.

Tell them, they're just curious. And the internet and media couldn't help them at all.

5. As we're all in the same path, travellers are the most open-minded people I know. 
Travel. Get out from your comfort zone. Book a ticket, pack your bag and go somewhere. Traveling is probably the best answer to how someone could be so open-minded. 

Travellers see more things non-travellers can't see. Travellers see beyond their own bubbles. Travellers see how diverse the world out there. They know this world isn't only filled with one specific race and religion, because they see the world out there.

No matter how much you're scared getting out from your hostel room to the common room and meet another travellers because you're wearing hijab; you'll be surprised how it doesn't stop them for asking your stories.
Here I can always find myself become more and more tolerate for any kind of diversity everytime I go back from somewhere far.

6. Good things will just pop out everywhere.
Like, everywhere.
Want to hear some examples?
- In Singapore where I asked for a bowl of jjangmyeon, the chef himself came out from the kitchen and said, "No, Miss. You're wearing.. (gesturing my hijab) and this contain pork. You can't."
- I went to a local pub back in 2012 with my school mates, it was really my first pub experience and I didn't hate it. When all my friends ordering tequila, suddenly one of the bartender suddenly came to me asking wether I wanted to have a coke or a glass of sparkling water.
- New Year Eve 2013 where I spent happily in Westminister Bridge watching the massive fireworks in London Sky, there was this one guy coming and asking me in all of sudden, "Hey, are you okay? You look a little pale." when all I knew that I was just very sleepy and tired.

7. At last, the world isn't as scary as you think it is.
This point will sum up what I've written above. As I'm sure because all travellers believe that we are all in this together; there's nothing wrong with giving a hand for another as they know soon or later they will need someone's help too.
During all my journeys, I can't count how many act of kindness I've ever received from other beautiful souls out there. It surprised me how I could feel at home when I'm not even home. It surprised me how I could feel so welcomed when I'm not even where I grew up. 

Here I've learnt that nothing could stop me for being curious about the outside world. For being always thirsty for more adventures, for more stories, for meeting more and more beautiful souls. There's nothing at all. Espescially not my hijab. 

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