I can't breathe. I'm itchy. I can't see properly and feel trapped in a mobile prison. But threatened? No! LIZ JONES describes her week in a BURKA
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During my week in the shadows, I soon found out why: there is no way a woman can work in one. Each time I had to go to meet or interview someone, I had to take the headpiece off. I couldn’t even see to type. Most importantly, I couldn’t think straight.
That first day, I was afraid to put it on. When I did pluck up courage, I felt suffocated, as though forced to live inside a dark tent. I got in my car to go to the station and realised there was no way I could drive safely with my eyes blinkered like a racehorse. Already deaf, the fabric snuffed out any residual sound.
On the walk to the station I could hardly breathe. My shroud made me itch all over, and my eyelashes kept banging against the cloth. A friend recently came back from a spell working in Qatar and said that whenever he drove he had to keep swerving to avoid running over the flocks of women who stumble on to roads. ‘They are like children. They have to be guided by men. None of them speak. It’s like the Middle Ages.’
I felt scared, vulnerable.
I walked to the kiosk to buy coffee. ‘Mumble mumble,’ I said to the young man serving. To his credit – the station is in a rural area, so I’m sure this was the first time he had encountered a full veil – he didn’t bat an eye, and smiled. I pointed. I automatically lifted the cup to my lips. Ah. How was I going to do this? I tried to work the cup up the inside of the cloth, performing an elaborate jig on the platform, but got stuck halfway.
Later that day, at a coffee shop in Fulham, I sat outside at a table, faced with a sandwich and a latte. As I weighed up my hunger, an Arabic man shouted abuse at the white, male photographer sent to chronicle my day. I have no idea what he was saying – perhaps I shouldn’t have been eating in public – but the interesting point is that during the entire experiment, he was the only person who gave me any abuse.
The only time I became furious at my treatment was when, for a domestic flight, I swanned through security unmolested, when normally I’m made to remove jacket and shoes. This smacked of PC pandering. I was heartened, though, that throughout my week I was only ever met with helping hands.