Journalistic experiment: what means to be a Muslim in Lithuania
The first day: appearance in public
Finally the day comes when we decide to start our journalistic experiment. We meet at home of one of us and start dressing.
We decide in advance that we will wear long and wide black abajas; however, Jurgita will wear a scarf and Giedrė will put niqab that will cover fully her face. Finally we are ready – with some efforts used two Muslim women are looking at us from the mirror.
Just prior starting the research, our familiar people and friends, who have heard of our intentions, tried to discourage us not to go out to the street dressed that way. Many of them thought that we seriously risk ending our experiment somewhere at the reception of the hospital… Nevertheless, we collect our last stuff, look through the peephole if our neighbours are not here (that would be really undesirable to meet them) and go out quickly to the staircase.
Having got down to the first floor, suddenly we get confused and barely go back as we get to see two neighbours talking just at the entrance outside. Our courage evaporates like smoke. We are stepping around tentatively in the staircase for a few minutes not having enough courage to appear outside. Excitement, anxiety and fear. Nobody knows how long we would be stepping in the staircase if not an elevator from which another neighbour appeared. He got to smile with popped eyes and went away.
Thus, there is no way backwards – we open the entry door and pass through evidently stunned neighbours with our leaned heads. We get to feel at once that their conversation is interrupted and their curious looks cross us through. We get distant from them in a hurry and after getting onto the car take a breath with relief.
It is necessary to acknowledge that there is quite strange feeling when going out dressed that way. In particular, when wearing a veil covering full face. At the beginning it seems that it is hard even to breath.
The Muslim Agnė affirms that she likes very much wearing a niqab when visiting in her husband‘s motherland as so dressed she feels alike unseen – nobody pays attention at her in the street, is not overlooking and does not replicate as it often happens when a woman not hiding her physical attractiveness appears in the street. However, we self-assure soon that the situation in Lithuania is totally controversial. A woman wearing a veil, in contrary, gets into the centre of attention and she becomes instantly a universal target of gossips.
Until we get used to reactions of surrounding people, we decide to have a walk along Gedinimas Avenue – you could see majority of representatives of other cultures and races in the main street of the capital where there are plenty of people after the midday of the working day; therefore, we should not seriously surprise by-passers as well. However, the very first responses of by-passers make prick up our ears. „Oh Goodness!“ – a middle-aged woman gets surprised loudly when passing us. We become uncomfortable but are stepping forward. In a while, we understand that we will have to get used to such replicas as we attract looks of surrounding people as a magnet.
Majority of by-passers or people having their lunch at tables in outdoor cafes are staring at us not withdrawing their eyes; teenagers start giggling (one of them choking with laughter brings a phrase “Allahu Akbar!“ (Eng. – “God is the greatest”) to us, and Vilnius residents walking in pairs or groups start whispering. We direct our eyes downwards; however, the feeling that everybody look at us and observe and some of them are probably even horrified does not leave us. Scarfs reduce surrounding sounds and we almost do not hear what surrounding people whisper; however, it is enough to s
top at the traffic lights and we get to hear again behind us: „Look, Muslim women. What a horror!“.
Having passed Gedinimas Avenue, we move to the Cathedral Square, and then go upwards along Pilies street. We see how a young lady tries to pretend taking picture of the street by her mobile phone, though the camera is evidently directed to us. Later, we will notice people taking pictures of us not once – both secretly and not concealing it at all.
We turn to the “French park” where we notice a girl sitting on the bench and a guy lying on her knees. The girl whispers something to the guy and he gets to sit at once to look at us. Necks of men sitting on the further benches stretch as that of swans – everybody wants to inspect us closely. Meantime we are walking further around the city followed by surprised looks, whispers and giggling. When walking along Totorių street, we get to see a middle-aged suit-dressed man of intelligent appearance, who rushes towards us and snaps straight in the eye when passing us: “Why have you put these outs on your face?“.
After the first day of the experiment, we get home heated – from both sun heat and obsessively pursuing glances. We have to admit that having taken off this wearing we really got into relief.