You Are How You Eat


A humorous piece regarding the struggles of eating with niqab.

Image courtesy of Ani-Bee

“How do you eat?” people ask me. Like where does the bite go in from, above or below? Sometimes I have to resist the urge to answer, “From above.” What sort of a question is that! How am I supposed to eat from above my niqab? What, I eye the fries, and they slide down my nose to my mouth? Really? Of course I slightly lift my niqab and eat from below – that’s where your mouth is, too, right?

You would think they would stop after that. But no, they need to see some action. So whenever I sit down to eat, they try to get a place opposite to me. And then their food gets cold while they behold the spectacle of a girl trying to eat with a covered mouth. They wait in anticipation as I arrange my bite on my plate, and as soon as my right hand lifts, they hush. They stop in mid-conversation.

Then my left hand slides under my niqab and I lift it, so that my hand can shield my face when it’s exposed. At that part they just ogle, unaware of the sleeve they just dipped into their plate or the hilarious expression they carry on their confused faces. Then swiftly, my fork is emptied into the secret cave which is my mouth and the job is done. Bismillah. Niqab flows back down and I smile with my mouth full at their awestruck faces.

They keep staring at me for a few moments in sheer bewilderment. Then they get back to their hanging sentence and eat their unfinished bite. But they continue to stare, overtly and covertly. If we happen to make eye contact I smile; they see my eyes crinkle and they smile back, embarrassed.

Most of them (especially the aunties) offer genuine advice: “Please come sit in this corner; you can take it off and eat in peace, there is no guy passing by.”  Others shake their head in disbelief, “You’re crazy, why do you do this to yourself!” Some mutter a few words in justification, “Just wanted to see how… ”  It’s okay, you know, curiosity is just human. And I don’t mind on most days. It just amuses me, provides me some entertainment during my meals.

Sometimes though, they get to see what they want to see: I end up dropping something on my niqab. It usually happens when I zone out (which I have a tendency of doing) and my rhythm goes out of whack. Like the other day, we had just gotten out of an exam and were discussing the answers. Gloomily I was lost in all the mistakes I had made.

So I sat down to have my cup of solace (tea), and I did not lift my niqab quite enough, and there was a huge brown circle below my nose. It was a hot day and I failed to notice the warmth of the stain. My friend just looked at me and asked, “Zehra? Did you just drink your tea through your niqab?” What? No! As a reflex my hand went to my mouth and I felt the wetness. Allahu Akbar! And everyone including the brothers standing near by started laughing and so did I. My friend started dabbing tissues over it and that just made us all crack up even more. Talk about post exam hysteria.

So those who hang out with me are used to these questions, “Do I have anything on my niqab? Are you sure? Please double check. Any ketchup stain or remnants of the ice cream I devoured from within?”

Having my first ice cream cone was an experience in itself. The wind and the accelerated melting did not help much. Alhumdulillah though, all the stains came to the inside layer of cloth so I innocently walked around university the whole day clandestinely smelling the chocolate off it. When I got home I took it off to confirm the suspicion; yes there were islands of brown all over it.

So it is an adventure wearing a niqab and definitely a greater one eating with it on. Girls fantasize about cliché activities like bungee jumping and scuba diving. (Definitely beyond my thrill threshold). Why don’t they just give it a shot one day? Wear a niqab and eat in public with a dozen eyes on you. That my lovely sisters, is a skill which takes a lot of funky colorful stains to master.