Everyday commute of curiosity

"They say these things assuming that I don’t understand what they are saying. That also comes from an antagonistic place."

"They say these things assuming that I don’t understand what they are saying. That also comes from an antagonistic place."

I take three taxis to work. I leave home at 6am. I walk to the bus stop and take the first taxi, which takes me to the Tsakane taxi rank. From there I get a taxi to Jo’burg. When I get to Jo’burg city centre, I catch the Rosebank taxi that drops me off a few metres from work.

There are days when I get into a taxi and people just stare at me like I am something strange. Then there are those who assume that I’m not black or that I’m from outside South African borders. They usually speak to me in English and I can tell the difference between someone who is speaking to me in English because that’s the language we’ve chosen to communicate in, and someone who thinks I do not understand isiZulu. It’s tiring, because I continually have to prove that I’m Zulu.

I prefer sitting in the middle of the taxi, with the window seats being my first preference. Window seats offer some sort of privacy in this public space.

When I have conversations with women, they ask about my religion and my reasons for wearing hijab, the symbolism behind hijab and whether I feel hot in it in summer.

My conversations with men start off with them asking about my religion, asking questions like: “Are you Muslim because you married a foreigner?” or “Can you date a non-Muslim man?” Some men ask even more personal questions.

People’s reactions are a combination of antagonism, discrimination and innocent ignorance. Some people are genuinely curious. I can tell in the way they ask me questions and ask me to refer them to places where they can get more information.

Some act out of ignorance, which I understand, because black South African Muslims are not something they are used to.

I think some people find it strange when they see a black Muslim who speaks their home language just like they do and they don’t know how to react to that. At times, it’s discrimination, based on the assumption that I’m not South African, and I experience xenophobia.

People talk about me and say things like: “Ufunani lo la? [What is she doing here?]” or “Kanti labantu babuyelanini emazweni wabo? [But when are these people going back to their countries?]” and “Bafunani abo Gaddafi la? [What do these Gaddafi’s want here?]”

They say these things assuming that I don’t understand what they are saying. That also comes from an antagonistic place.

One of the funniest things that happened to me was when an elderly woman sat next to me and said she’d been watching me for some days and that she would like me to be her daughter-in-law.

One of my worst experiences was recent. When I left work, it was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella with me. So out of desperation, I sat in the front seat next to the driver. He started asking me about my religion and then asked if a non-Muslim man like him could “eat my cake”.

I haven’t noticed any difference between people’s behaviour in the morning versus in the afternoon.

I travel alone. I have yet to find a travel partner.

Nelisiwe Msomi

Nelisiwe Msomi

Nelisiwe Msomi is a Junior journalist at Bhekisisa. She holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Johannesburg. Previously, Msomi was a volunteer member of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation’s media team and started off her career as an intern at Bhekisisa.She has an interest in how government policies affect the ordinary person walking on Johannesburg’s Nelson Mandela Bridge and hopes to one day find a solution to long 6 am clinic queues."I have always seen journalism as a means of making the world a better place. Being part of Bhekisisa allows me to do just that, especially through the practice of solution based journalism. I believe that the work we do as journalist paves the path for better service delivery in our continent," she says. Read more from Nelisiwe Msomi

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