Bao Down Bitches

(I originally shared this picture and story on Instagram on March 2, 2018, so I’ve included a few details to further contextualise.)

In February 2017, not too long after the 45th U.S. presidential inauguration ceremony, I was invited to Yale to give a talk about my research.

I had been battling a cold and wasn’t sleeping well the weeks leading up to it, but I did it. Once it was over and my wonderful hosts fed me and took me back to my hotel, I was all too excited to give myself a break and watch television.

But no politics. No executive orders. No new addition pulled out of the box of cabinet horrors in the new reality show we were now all a part of.

Just me, lots of channels, and a remote.

So I washed up, changed my clothes, prayed, jumped into that obscenely warm cozy hotel bed, and watched Crazy, Stupid, Love and Interview with a Vampire and eventually fell asleep by 3 am.

The next morning, I ended waking up late, checked out of the hotel by noon, and went looking for a place to eat lunch before catching my train back to NYC.

I didn’t—and still don’t—know New Haven very well, so I walked up and down College, George, Temple, and Crown streets, and finally settled on a noodle bar.

I was seated at a long table next to a couple and across from three other men who ate alone. The vibe of the place was friendly, and I was in a good mind space ESPECIALLY when the bearded hipster who took my order enthusiastically affirmed my food choices like I was the shit ❤.

(My photo caption would’ve been “Bao Down Bitches” even if I didn’t share this story. Just look at that bao.)

After paying the bill and as I began to collect my things, I heard a deep clear voice say, “As-salamu ‘alaykum sister.” I looked up and saw a man standing with a woman – a friend? Partner? Spouse? – who was watching him. I imagined what was about to happen was a part of the conversation they had over their meal.

He stepped toward me. I noticed his strong posture, short cropped hair, and clean-shaven tanned face as he looked directly at me and said, “I just wanted to say – I think you are so brave. With all that’s going on. I mean, to wear hijab even now…You make me proud to be Muslim…I am proud to see you. Sorry. I’m sorry. I just …”

I said he didn’t need to apologize.

I knew he was feeling the immensity of the political moment we found ourselves in.

I told him that I deeply appreciated him—and I truly did. We exchanged salams a second time, I nodded at the woman watching, and then they both left together.

And it occurred to me that it’s been a while a Muslim male stranger said something about my scarf with a sincerity that didn’t agitate me or make me suspicious. His salam – in a space where, for all I knew, I was the only Muslim – uplifted me.

And that’s how my meal and very brief visit to New Haven ended before I headed to Union Station.

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