"I Was Quite Afraid that I Was Wearing A Headscarf"

In the days following 9/11 maybe Americans never realized that they were looking at this woman who appeared quite different from them, maybe they observed her consciously, or maybe, they never saw her at all.
However, after that particular day, Yeter Özdemir, a housewife living in New York for 11 years who wears a headscarf because of her religious beliefs and the way that she grew up, has started to feel that she is continuously being watched when she walks on the streets of New York. This was the biggest injury that 9/11 caused her…

“Then, I was quite afraid that I was wearing a headscarf. My husband told me ‘you may take it off if you like.’ I was going to the laundry one day. I took off my headscarf. As I reached the halfway, I was thinking whether I would be able to continue without my scarf. Then I told to myself ‘this is not for me!’ Quickly I went back home. Then I decided to buy something like an American flag. And that was what I did. I bought an American flag and wore it on my head the way people wear a head covering when the weather is too hot. I told to myself ‘let me stay like this for a couple of months until things calm down.’  I really stayed that way for a while then started to wear my headscarf again.”

Yeter Özdemir is a sensitive Anatolian woman. It is possible to see this in her hospitality, in the decoration of her house, and in the way she talks and the clothes she wears. What I wondered was how such a sensitive woman would interpret the way that Americans look at her five years after 9/11. Her effort to give an unbiased answer proves that despite the fears that she had been through she tries not judge the Americans unfairly:

“I mean, maybe the Americans were not looking at me. But I was feeling that way, I was afraid that they would look at me. They never said a word or made rude remarks about me. However, there was always a fear inside me that they would get angry or think in a bad way because I was wearing a headscarf…”

In her daily life, Yeter Özdemir feels that the teachers or the parents of the other children look at her most when she takes her son Denizcan to kindergarten. Also the fact that after 11 years she can only speak a few simple words in English, just enough to express herself, has an effect on this.

“When I take Denizcan to the school, they try not to show too much but I feel that they are looking at me. The teachers treat me very well, but I’m the only person who is wearing a headscarf among all those people. Of course I feel their looks. Sometimes they ask, ‘Are you a Muslim?’ Once in the elevator a woman asked, ‘Are you an Arab?’ I said ‘No.’ When I said no she was relieved. Since I wear a headscarf they think that I’m an Arab; but I don’t get angry anymore.”

Because of the worries that she developed after 9/11, the changing U.S., and the living conditions that are getting difficult, Yeter Özdemir wants to go back to her hometown, Zonguldak. She hopes to bring up her son Denizcan there:

“I cannot see the happiness of the past in the U.S. I mean things are a little better now but I feel that the people here are not happy. I want to raise my child in Turkey, and when he is around 20 he may come here if he likes. We feel very alone in the U.S., both I and the child. Denizcan may get an education in Turkey. I think being close to my relatives, my friends and acquaintances, would be a relief for me; because I will have a friend, a sister to go when I feel bored. Of course, sometimes I think that I would not be able to get used to living there again. It was not easy to get used to living here either; it took years. It will also be a little difficult to get used to Turkey, but again I think it would be easier to overcome this together with my relatives and friends…”

Yeter Özdemir didn’t want to take off her headscarf in these five years despite her friends’ insistence that she do so; she says, “taking off my scarf is not for me!”  9/11 continues to have such an effect on her; she will always feel she is being looked at when she walks on the streets of New York, but before I ask, she says:

“I cannot change because I was brought up like this; but I wish I could go to my child’s school or talk to people without wearing a headscarf.  But I’m happy to be like this. I know and feel that they are looking when I’m walking on the streets; but it doesn’t disturb me anymore…”

Last modified onSaturday, 06 May 2017 10:07