My friend smiles the beautiful grin I’ve known for six years of living here. She was one of my first friends in Kalimantan. Easy to talk to, she had an American-sounding name that was easy to remember amidst all the names I still have a hard time pronouncing.
I lean in, not wanting to miss a word of what she’s saying. My toddler daughter is determined to escape from her small store out onto the busy road. My friend tugs a bag of chips off her store display, giving them to Renea to distract her, refusing to let me pay for them.
I’m not surprised at her generosity.
Renea’s face is soon covered with her orange powdery smile.
My friend keeps smiling past all my hard questions, about polygamy, about black magic, about female circumcision, about family issues. I’ve heard some of the answers before, woven into the lives of the Muslim Indonesian women I’ve come to know.
And I’ve heard your questions—the ones where you ask about what it’s like for the Muslim women where I live. Do they have rights? —Yes. Do they fear being executed for accusations that may or may not be true? —Not at all. Are they oppressed underneath those head coverings? —No, they choose to wear them according to their Muslim call to modesty. Are they or their husbands terrorists? —Very unlikely.
I’ve had plenty of chances to answer Indonesians’ questions about Americans. Do they all live in mansions? —No. Do they all sleep around? —Certainly not. Do Americans ever eat rice? —Hmm. Sometimes, as long as it’s drenched in salt and butter.
So, what are the hard things felt by women behind the veil in this part of the world?
What are my friend’s struggles underneath her gorgeous smile?
During these next few weeks, I plan to share with you the answers of my Indonesian friends. Not scientific by any means. All anonymous. My descriptions not meant to judge, but to share their stories. Not meant to point fingers, but to better understand.
I won’t be able to give the whole truth from my own small group of friends in this limited space. And realizing that it’s hard not to write through my cultural filter, I plan to write mainly the words of my friends. I welcome the opinions from other Muslim women—whether you agree or not.
But though I won’t share their names, you must know that I love them. And admire them. And sometimes want to be like them. And often ache for them. And always, pray for them. And my desire is that you would meet them, and come to love them, too.
Will you join me in getting to know these women under the covering?
photo credit, rosmary