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I wore the headscarf in Morocco, travelling on the train from Marrakesh to Rabat. I’d spent a day in Marrakesh, just off the plane, feeling a stranger, someone to hassle, someone to beg from, constantly. In Marrakesh, 99% of women have their heads covered.

On the train, no one talked to me for the first 2 hours. Watching the middle aged lady sitting in front of me , I found myself thinking: the effect that her veil has on me is probably the same as my bare head has on her. A feeling of distance between us, of separation – and yet we are both women, she’s probably a mother too, we must share more than what divides us.  But if I wanted to reach out to her, would she want to talk with me, or ever trust a foreign woman with her head uncovered?  Could she ever believe that I, too, might recognise Fatima as the enlightened woman of Islam, a global archetype of womanhood, who nurtures, loves and brings up her children, and the men in her family as citizens of an ideal world?   How might we share experiences of joy, pain, of Love, when she doesn’t actually see me, beyond the absence of the veil on my head?  Is there a bridge, between her and me, between us and them, which the heart might walk across? And who, of the two of us, could or would reach first?  In a way it’s like writing a Mac document and trying to read it in Word. You can just see hieroglyphs, even if the message is right there, in all its power.  

Islam means”surrender to the Almighty” – so I too feel like a muslim, even if with no veil.  I stood up, and took my woollen scarf from the suitcase. I turned towards the lady, talking in animated arabic with the other passengers, and showed her, with a smile, that I wanted her to show me how to put it on.  Suddenly the conversation stopped, and they all looked at me with surprise. I offered my scarf, and as it was tied around my head, the other passengers all said “ha, beautiful!” whilst my new friend opened up in a truly beautiful smile.

The scarf makes me feel different. I didn’t imagine that tight feeling around my throat…and two thin layers of wool on my ears create a cotton wool effect between me and the rest of the world. I can feel my attention receding inwards. And now the miracle is done, and something in the air has changed. I am not transparent anymore and everyone includes me in their chats, this time in french.The lady reaches into her bag, and takes out a hand made loaf of bread. With a biblical kind of gesture, she breaks it into 5 pieces and offers one to each of us, smiling at me.

I have the headscarf on all through my journey and out of the train in Rabat. No one hassles me anymore.

In Rabat, half the women wear western clothes and have their hair down. With some of them, I found myself discussing fashion and the role of women in this expanding modern Islamic society.  Moroccan society has many facets: I felt free to wear the scarf and connect with a layer of society otherwise un-reachable;  as I feel free to leave my hair open to the wind, and connect with a different reality. The border between the two is very thin.  If you can find the way to play in both, they give sense to each other.