“How old are you?”
I got asked this question 3 times during my business trip. I recently travelled to Hobart, Darwin and Melbourne for work.
I got asked how old I am, by 3 different men.
All taxi drivers.
All from different backgrounds.
The first was a taxi driver in Darwin. He turned out to be Lebanese Muslim who moved to Darwin and is doing his masters in engineering. And after telling me how there’s a very small number of Lebanese people in Darwin, he asked me for my age and then said he is already married, but has a friend looking for wife.
Darwin is a beautiful city and while I enjoyed the warm weather, there is limited halal food options and was very hard to get around.
Darwin has amazing views, and I went for a stroll at the Botanic Gardens and visited the NT Chinese Museum.
It is also not very culturally diverse and so, this taxi driver was excited to meet another person of Lebanese descent.
It’s also common to have marriage proposals like this in our culture.
I politely declined and told him I’m not interested in marriage right now. He was kind and after dropping me off at the airport, gave me his number and invited me to have dinner with his wife next time I’m ever in Darwin.
Not sure I’ll ever be back though.
I worried for his newly-wed wife who has trouble finding work because of her hijab.
The second taxi driver to ask how old I am- I just got off the plane in Melbourne and an older Muslim man, who came from Libya, drove me to my hotel.
I almost got into a fight with this man.
He seemed to have a very narrow and traditional view on marriage and women’s roles, and started to give me a lecture about how Muslim women should get married, stay home and “listen to her husband.”
I was baffled and started to argue with him and tell him that women and men are both equal in the Quran when it comes to seeking knowledge, and practicing their faith, and according religious rulings a woman is not forced to stay at home and clean, if anything she is rewarded for doing so (if she chooses to!). More importantly, many Islamic teachings argue that “Seeking Knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim” and a woman certainly has the right to work, own property and is accountable for her own actions.
I could tell he was a little worried about a young Muslim woman traveling alone, but I assured him I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my parents trust, my courage and God’s protection.
I also realised I couldn’t argue any more with someone who has a backward view.
I worried for his daughter and the fact that he told me twice that he’s divorced, made me think it over clouded his judgment about culture, religion and women’s rights.
The third taxi driver to ask how old I am- a very nice and friendly taxi driver who drove me to Melbourne airport after my work ended.
He turned out to be Indian and from a Shikh faith- “where many people mistake us for Muslims”. He seemed like a very educated and kind-hearted man and shared how he tells his daughters – “religion is important, but the human comes first”.
He felt the need to explain that he has many Muslim friends there isn’t any conflict between Muslims and other faiths inside India itself, but it’s all politics.
We had a long chat about acceptance, tolerance and diversity and the importance of education. We even spoke about Bollywood movies and food and he was as one of the kindest man I’ve ever met.
I didn’t worry about his daughters and told him they’re lucky to have a very open minded father like him.
Melbourne was so diverse and similar to Sydney. There was lots of halal food options, lots of people from different backgrounds and it is very easy to get around. There is also lots of accessibility signs in public transport.
I’ll definitely be back.
No one in Hobart asked me how old I was.
Hobart was a beautiful city with amazing views!
There were some people from diverse backgrounds in Hobart but I didn’t meet many Muslims.
Getting around was easy and I went to the waterfront and even caught a ferry to the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA).
I’ll definitely be back. In summer, when it’s not too cold!
During my work in each capital city, I could tell I was the youngest person in the room and I was interviewing people much older and more experienced than me.
But no one questioned my age and they all seemed to respect me, my job and my expertise as a social researcher.
And even though I was also the only Muslim or hijab wearing person- it was not something that seemed to bother them.
So, it’s funny how these encounters with different taxi drivers, and the times where my age was questioned, reflected the different cities as well as the different cultural viewpoints.
More importantly, it made me feel grateful and appreciate many things:
- how lucky I am to be educated
- how lucky I am to be able to travel for work
- how lucky I am to be respected at work
- how lucky I am to have open minded and trusting parents
- how lucky I am to live in a wonderful country with a multicultural society (more so in some places)
- how lucky I am to practice my faith and culture (even though the experiences may differ in each city)
- how brave I must be to travel alone (it wasn’t anything I was scared of but it’s something I was told repeatedly and something to think about).
- how lucky I am I didn’t face many issues because of my hearing loss (another story of its own).
- how Iucky I am to call (Sydney) Australia home.
All praise belongs to Allah (God) for this amazing and wonderful experience where I learnt so much about myself, my work and my country.
Anyone interested in why I went to these capital cities and my work please check out https://www.sprc.unsw.edu.