Not long ago, the French government passed a law banning the burqa in public settings in order to maintain the state’s commitment to complete secularism. France and many other countries in Western Europe have considerable Muslim minorities from North Africa and the Middle East, and immigration is changing the face of Europe in the same way it is in the US and elsewhere. In Reunion, however, minorities are the majority. Here there are mosques next to churches next to temples next to voodoo huts next to whatever you can imagine. And they’re very proud of their long history of integration and cohabitation. (There’s a wall covered in graffiti explaining this that I need to take a picture of.)
The reason I bring up the burqa ban is that I witnessed a bus driver deny a young girl permission to get on his bus until she agreed to lift the niqab and hijab covering her face and hair. That was shocking. I’d seen many women wearing the burqa since arriving here (although clearly not as many as in Yemen, where ironically women are “free” to wear them in public) and I am curious to see how the recent law from the capital 5,000 miles away will affect the Muslim population on Reunion.
Meanwhile, the 12-year old son of the teacher I’m staying with, Tanguy, is searching frantically under the furniture in the living room for a lost earring belonging to one of his many Barbies. I’m not sure what the kid is thinking, but he really likes his Barbies. Last night we watched TV with three of them sitting next to us on the couch, in perfect upright posture, hands resting delicately on their crossed legs and everything. He says he wants to become an activist for the rights of Barbie’s when he grows up, because he believes that its unfair that they can think but they cant move, that they can carry bags and purses but can’t access their contents because they’re solid plastic and don’t open, and that their eyes are always pointed blankly in front of them and you can never really tell where they’re looking. Maybe as he grows older his budding interest in activism will lead him to take on real challenges and issues facing real women in the real world.