Me, Myself and Somaye #4: Unveiled

mmsbanner3Me, Myself and Somaye chronicles the experiences of an international student coming directly from Iran, who had never been to another country, started college a few years later than average, and was raised in a culture diametrically opposed to most of the trends and behaviours practiced in the Netherlands and at University College Utrecht. Funky banner inspiration courtesy of De La Soul.

By Somaye Dehban (’07)

– Did you take it off since you came here?

– No, I also did not wear it there…but in the streets you have to, it’s the law!

– But in the picture you sent us with your application you are wearing a headscarf!

– Yes, not all the photo studios accept taking unveiled pictures…

I’m not sure if it was her accent, her chair, or her clothes that instantly made me attracted to her. I don’t know if her approach was comfortable that made me feel at ease or the easiness of her approach that made me feel comfortable. In any case, it was not what I expected: the college teacher in baggy trousers and a loose blouse was not what I had seen in “college movies”. No suit, no tight skirt, no make-up, no antique bookshelf stacked with thick books, nothing resembled the image I had in mind for my first appointment with my tutor.
It was January 2005, just couple of days after our arrival to the Netherlands, maybe 10, since it was after introduction week that I had my first appointment with Rosemary. It was a habit that we went everywhere together, Bamshad and I entered the first room on the right side of the right corridor of College Hall on the first floor (or, by our counting, the second floor). A greeting was extended to both of us and we were introduced to Floris, who happened to be my Philosophy teacher.

Did she notice that I was letting my eyes wander around her room rather than listening to her? When you’re not a native speaker of a language you cannot rely on your “passive” listening; a mistake I made a couple of times at the beginning of my college days. On top of that she had an accent and all I could hear was a melody instead of words. All the English I had ever heard were the accents of non-American movie stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jackie Chan, Jean-Claude van Damme, and the ones whose English was not very comprehendible like Sylvester Stallone. I had heard Chris de Burgh, but his accent sounded anything but British. She asked whether we had a room together. I got that part, shook my head and closed my mouth that I did not realize had been open. I’m not sure whether she had a longer chat with Bamshad or with me.

I saw my file on her desk, with my picture stapled to the top left corner. It was one of those passport photos that you look good on – or at least somewhat – and then use for all places that need one: my newly minted national ID card, my other ID card, my driver’s license, and I guess a couple of other things. When I sent my application for UCU, I used the same photo (I liked it after all). I’m not sure if I even gave it a second thought that this photo might give a wrong impression of me to those who were going to process my application. But should that even matter?

Some questions were hardly ever asked when I was growing up, or were never asked directly. When my cousin took off her chador, all the family members knew about it, but nobody asked her anything about it.  Not that they approved of the act – quite the contrary – but they did not want to confront her or themselves with the change.

But here I was asked and confronted directly: did I take of my veil when I came here? No and Yes. No, because I did not wear it back there, and yes, because I had to wear it back there. I wish this was the whole story I could tell and have it be over with, but there are so many more layers to being unveiled.