Two days

That’s how long it has taken for everyone to forget I’m wearing a scarf and interactions to go back to normal.  True, there are still a few double takes – it’s a big Institute, and I haven’t crossed paths with everyone yet, but in my lab, everyone’s basically used to the idea and has moved on.  Which is nice.

As for me, it turns out that it’s taken about four days for me to reach the point where I can go for long periods of time without remembering that I’m wearing a scarf.  It’s not that I’ve been wandering around feeling self-conscious at all times up until now – though for the first three days, and especially on Monday, I was certainly self-conscious pretty often – but today I found that I’d become so used to the feel of my scarf that I had to check visually several times that I was still wearing it and wasn’t leaving hair or neck exposed (the horror!).  My brain is now tuning out all those nerve endings that were jumping up and down going “Something on my head!  Something on my cheek! Something on my neck!” for the last few days, and this is apparently the new normal.

This does, of course, lead to random moments of confusion when someone reacts to my scarf and at first I don’t know what they are reacting to – or moments of fear when I realise that I have forgotten what I’m wearing and have thus also forgotten to think about where I am, and have to do a quick “Is this somewhere I feel safe wearing a scarf” analysis.  Because the thing that hasn’t stopped is the constant, low-level anxiety about being out in public and looking Non-White.  Even though, I have to say, the worst I’ve had to deal with since Saturday is people moving away from me on public transport or glaring at me at tram stops.

(And I’d just like to add that while this is really very low-grade stuff, I can imagine that it’s the sort of thing that could really build up and start to weigh on one’s psyche over time.  I was bullied at school, and it took me years to walk into a room and not expect everyone to hate me on sight – I still expect this sometimes – and I must admit, getting onto public transport in Hijab does feel a lot like walking into my year nine classroom.)

Anyway, since normality – or some sort of equlibrium, at least – has been restored, I’m going to keep today’s post short, and instead draw your attention to something that I think is pretty cool.  Julian Burnside, a human rights lawyer and refugee advocate, is inviting people to join a new letter-writing campaign – actually, it’s more of a pen-pal thing, where one writes to an asylum seeker held on Nauru or Manus Island, with the intent to show solidarity and form friendships.  Since I think this is rather in the same vein as the efforts of the Women in Solidarity with Hijabis, I thought some of those who are reading this might be interested.  Information on how to write a letter is here – essentially, one writes a first letter without directing it to anyone specific, and QC Burnside will forward it on to an asylum seeker in detention, along with some information about the campaign, and also writing materials.  There’s a lovely example of a letter here, if you need inspiration.  My own attempt is below.  It’s painfully awkward, but I’m not sure there is a non-awkward way to say “Hello, stranger in difficult circumstances, would you like to write to me?”.


To the person who receives this letter,

My name is Catherine, and I work in medical research – not as a scientist, but on the administrative side. I’m also a singer and a writer, and am just a bit obsessed with baking.  I live in Melbourne with my husband and two cats.

I’m writing to you because I’d like you to know that there are a lot of Australians who don’t support putting people in off-shore detention when all they have done is tried to escape an unsafe situation in their homeland. My father’s family emigrated to Australia in the 1950s, and my mother’s family had to flee Austria in the 1930s, so I grew up knowing that we were lucky to be here – and also that Australia is lucky to have its migrants, because they give so much back to the community. It makes me sad and angry to realise how un-welcoming my country has become.

I would love to hear from you, if you would like to write to me. Tell me a bit about yourself – where you come from, and why, or tell me about your family and friends – or just write about anything you enjoy writing about, really! I hope we can become friends.

You, and all those who seek asylum, are in my thoughts and my prayers. Stay strong, and know that you haven’t been forgotten.

Best wishes,


2 thoughts on “Two days

  1. excellent idea. admirable that you’re a medical researcher. where i live, most people are the descendents of refugees, and yet we treat the refugees who arrive here with extreme cruelty.
    all countries should accept refugees and help them out, no detention, no sending back, no brutality, etc.
    the refugees who are considered our citizens are treated great here, and in the eighties some were housed in a hotel, (with freedom to come and go whenever they wanted). dont see why we cant extend this courtesy to all. if it can be done with our citizens, then it can be done with all refugees. hotel costs less than detention anyway. give them a work permit and speed up immigration process. accept them. they’re not a threat to anyone.

    • Thank you! Just want to clarify, I’m not a medical researcher, I just work with a lot of them, helping them get organised and write grants and things – but since my job description is actually relatively difficult to communicate to people who have English as a first language, I thought I’d try to keep it simple.

      Most Australians – indeed, all non-Aboriginal Australians – are the descendants of immigrants, and an awful lot of people are descended from refugees, so yes, I also find it difficult to understand how we can justify treating them so poorly.

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