This is not like me, but today, I would like to set myself as an example for all of you who are dealing with the unwanted looks and smiles you are getting as Middle Easterners.
I live in Colorado Springs, a military town; very conservative, and religious. I haven't got much hair (I shave with #1 clippers on a weekly basis). I don't look much like the typical Middle Easterner. I have been very conscious as to the looks I might get when walking in the street or shopping. I have not had much since I don't leave the house much these days.
Yesterday, I went downtown, to a small park that is a gathering place for families and tourists. It's our version of Central Park, except it is only as large as a block. It was after a peace walk organized by some local groups. There were 12 people in the walk, which lasted about two hours.
I gathered all my courage, picked up an issue of The Independent, a local city paper, went to the park and sat down on a bench. I had my cool shades on so I was pretty sure no-one would notice that I was from another part of the world. I was constantly looking around me for any unusual encounter. Anyone who walked within 10 yards of me, was subjected to my surveillance.
It got a bit exciting when the guy on the next bench asked me a question about the fountain in front of us. I had heard him tell someone else that he was a WWII veteran. He was wearing a flag lapel. I am not sure why, but he didn't notice that I had a funny accent, so the conversation which lasted about 20 seconds, went uneventful.
I kept reading the paper, which by the way, had published that email by the Afghani guy, Tamim the one most of us received a few days ago which was about the poor shape of the Afghanis. I stayed in the park for an hour. But to my amazement nothing happened.
I am kind of an adventurous guy. That should explain why I dared to sit on a bench in a park in the middle of downtown America. I was kind of disappointed that I didn't receive even a single look, sarcastic smile — nothing. After all, what would I tell my grand kids about this incident. No juicy stories?
Again, I thought for a while, gathered my courage and did the unthinkable. First I looked around for a while, making sure the people around me were not the red-neck type. Then in a very swift move, slid my glasses up to my forehead. At first I didn't look up and kept reading, waited for a the slightest noise to attract my attention. And then, voila! I looked up. That's right folks! I did it. I took my glasses off and it felt great.
I was overwhelmed by joy and fear at the same time — like going up the most fearsome roller coaster. You are terrified but excited at the same time.
Finally, I have a story to tell my kids and their kids and their kids. My friends — yesterday in Colorado Springs history was made. I can already see the headlines: “Extra! Extra! An Iranian-American took his glasses off while sitting on a park bench”.