When I did the first burka post 6 months ago, I knew there would be another one. One that would be far more scary because I would be anything but invisible. And for 6 months whenever I thought about it, I'd get anxious and contemplate the possible things that could go wrong. Then I'd think maybe I shouldn't do it at all. But, I always thought that wearing a burka here in America would be the more interesting social experiment. So, I knew I had to do it.
I live in middle America. Colorado Springs to be exact. It's a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll and a whole lotta evangelical christian headquarters.. This is no melting pot. (Although we do boast the fondue chain downtown.) This is homogeneous-ville. Not by design, but by some weird magnetic force in the universe that draws pale as whole milk churchy people to this geographic location. Of course I'm overgeneralizing. Well, kinda. Have you been here? My point is, I have never, ever seen anyone in a burka within the city limits. Or in the state either, for that matter. It's just something that doesn't happen here.
I knew the perfect place to conduct such an experiment. The most American place on earth. Besides Disney World of course. Walmart. In the middle of the day. In the middle of the week. I don't know exactly what to expect. But I image some stares, pointing, whispering and a bit of instantaneous contempt would be involved. Again, I'm overgeneralizing, but in situations like this, all it takes is one person to make things go horribly wrong. That's why my husband Craig will also be in the store with me. But not with me. Watching me from afar to make sure I'm safe. That and someone needs to take pictures. But mostly for that safety thingy.
My wobbly legs carried me through the parking lot past two men standing outside the entry doors. Even though I was extremely nervous, I tried to make eye contact, but they averted my gaze. Until I passed them, and saw their reflection of their turned heads aimed directly at me in the glass. The greeter is sitting in her motorized cart and is stunned into silence so I don't receive the gratis welcome to Walmart owed every customer. Except me.
I start in produce. When I notice the greeter who is rolling along in her motorized cart. And she's not rolling back prices, she's either eager to get a closer look. Or to run me over because she drives dangerously close to me and narrowly misses crashing into my cart.. Or maybe that's just how she rolls. She followed me down 2 more aisles before either losing interest or suddenly remembering her vital greeting duties.
I settle into shopping for my groceries. Careful to not buy the bacon I really wanted to buy because it seemed so many levels of wrong while wearing a burka. With each aisle, I grew more relaxed because no one was looking, staring or pointing. But yet, I wasn't invisible either. If a cart was in my way other shoppers politely moved it and apologized for the inconvenience, the way Americans do. So I wasn't invisible and I wasn't a spectacle. And this isn't at all what I expected.
I made it all the way to the back of the store in the dairy section without so much as a second glance. I was just another one of the people of Walmart. Flying their freak flag. But, my rating on the freak scale was a 1 on a scale from 1 to 10. So no one cared. Or gave me a second glance. Maybe Walmart wasn't the right venue for this after all.
This was going nowhere. I had to do something. So I started talking to people. "Have you had that yogurt before? Is it good?" And my fellow dairy lover looked right into my eyes and explained with a smile how delicious that flavored greek yogurt was without a blink. Later, that key lime flavored one would prove her right. I can testify to that.
Now this is the point where Craig completely lost track of me. Because he got so bored watching me shop and the nothing that was happening that he just started to shop. Which I find funny because out of the two of us, Craig was far more fearful for my safety than I was. It was so boring it had just become a routine Walmart run.
I walked he rest of the way through Walmart asking the employees for chalk board chalk (which I never did find by the way), stove top cleaner, those frozen ice cube sheets for coolers, anything I could think of to engage people. Oh, I also chatted it up with customers. Then, I slowly perused the toy section where I was sure a small child would be enticed to say "Why is she dressed like that mommy?" But, no. Even kids know I'm a 1 on the Walmart freak scale. So I've got nothing.
After a couple hours of extremely slow and methodical shopping in a burka, I was finally done. Simply because I couldn't think of anything else to do. So I sent Craig a text that the mission was complete and headed to the check out. Hoping something would happen there so I'd have something to write about. Maybe I would use my credit card and she would check my ID and ask to see my face. But of course she didn't. She was friendly as could be. Until I left the store. Then she ran into the parking lot behind me shouting trying to get my attention. Turns out, I had just left my eggs in the revolving bagging wheel of childhood black eyes.
Craig met me at the car and we were both stunned that there was essentially no reaction. Maybe if I'd done it on a weekend, maybe at a different store. Maybe if I'd gone to Hooters to eat some wings. Maybe if I'd have worn the thicker face veil that they couldn't see my facial expressions through. Or maybe if less people were buried in their cell phones. Or maybe, just maybe Americans are more tolerant than I gave them credit for.