Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to one very amazing military veteran speak about his experiences in Afghanistan.
I am not as politically savvy as my husband, but I have paid quite a bit of attention to the news and what our troops are enduring while at war with terrorism.
The assignment of listening to Dr. Ken Zontek was an assignment I looked forward to. I felt it would be a great opportunity to hear a first-hand account of what I had been seeing on television.
So, I showed up at Carl Stevens Senior Center in Grandview, camera ready, pen in hand. I placed myself in a front row seat in order to take really great pictures of the featured speaker.
I took "copious notes," as referred to by Dr. Zontek after his presentation. Not once did I think I would be called upon to share with the audience what it is like to wear the Burkha displayed in front of the room.
I enjoyed hearing Dr. Zontek's talk, I felt I learned a great deal of information. I had pools of tears I was holding back as he spoke about the poor women he encountered in Afghanistan.
But, the Burkha was just a "thing" sitting before me. I knew what it was. I have to admit it brought about some apprehension in me. Perhaps, keeping my distance kept it from actually being the item of clothing that I feared it actually was...another tool of oppression.
I suppose I try to guard myself from the knowledge within me if it is knowledge of disparity. I don't like to face ugly facts much due to the emotions those facts may invoke.
When Dr. Zontek requested I stand before his audience in the Burkha, I felt myself wither inside. However, I stood up and allowed the audience to see "it is one size fits all." Every inch of me screamed. But, I knew I had to overcome the feelings of being in front of these people, with this object of true despotism over my head.
I was asked how the Burkha felt. It was utterly suffocating. I thought I was going to panic and yank the darned thing off my head. But, I fought every slice of the dread within me and answered the questions asked.
I couldn't see beyond directly in front of me. It was very unnerving.
Then, the realization hit me. There are women in the world who have to experience the feelings I was having every day of their lives. I don't know if they experience those feelings in the same way. They may be used to the Burkha. Thus, they may not feel as terrible about it as I did.
But, just because the Burkha doesn't bother them, does not mean they don't feel the suffocation and panic. The women of Afghanistan have no control over their own lives, their own destiny. They are routinely treated as "chattel." They suffer horrors of the worst kind. And, I am here in the United States, given freedoms they can't even fathom.
Because I am allotted the freedom to expose my hair, my arms, my legs and other portions of myself, which would be covered by the Burkha if I were living in a country whose custom is to have women wear this oppressive garment, I am lead to wonder, who am I to think, for even a short moment in my life, that placing that Burkha over my head is any sort of suffering whatsoever. I am much more fortunate to have been born into a country, which values women and believes in the freedom of women. I have been able to walk in public without being fearful of exposure. I was able to obtain an education. I have been able to choose my career path.
And as a reporter, I should be grateful for the fact that I was given the chance to demonstrate and educate others about this article of clothing, which Americans either fear or are mystified by.