The Mum Network

A Plane, A Four Year old, A Burqa And A Big Misunderstanding.

As my little family recovers from a big flight home, I thought it worth sharing one last story that happened on our way home.

I’ve always prided myself on being as open and honest with the kids as possible. If they ask a question, hubby and I try to answer it in the most age appropriate way that will apease their little minds.

The one thing I wasn’t prepared for, simply because I hadn’t thought about it, was that Malaysia is a  predominantly Muslim country. It’s commonplace to see about 50% of women wearing a headscarf and about 10% wearing the full burqa. Whilst it’s not uncommon to see Muslim women in Sydney wearing a headscarf, it is uncommon to see the full burqa in black and we saw many women at our resort wearing them and the kids were naturally curious.

Now in the same way I’ve had to answer the kids questions about “why do Priests wear dresses Mum” – erk, that was a tough one. We were asked by one of the kids one night, “what’s it like to live in a burqa?” Someone in the group answered “I think it would be like living in a letterbox” – this was not meant to be a racist taunt, comical or anything other than everyone having no idea how to answer the question with anything other than “bloody hot in this weather”….the kids thought it was rather hilarious that ladies were living in letterboxes and we changed the subject and moved on. The kids all accepted the ladies in burqa’s for the remainder of the holiday and we thought nothing of it.

Until….last night we were at the airport at Langkawi and Mr 5 inadvertently knocked the button off hubby’s shorts. Hubby had been doing a bit of action man stuff on the holiday and had lost a bit of weight so no button on the shorts was going to mean the shorts were going to fall down. Being the geek that he is, hubby travels with almost every computer and device we own so out came an electrical cord to act as a temporary belt. Cool, that was sorted then.

When we jumped on the plane  we realised that we had been split up and it meant that Mr 7 was going to have to sit next to a man and his wife on his own. The wife was fully clad in a black burqa with only her eyes showing. He was slightly intimidated by the thought of not sitting with Mum and Dad and promptly announced, “I don’t want to sit next to the lady in the letterbox” – erk, wanted to die. A nice Muslim lady spotted his discomfort and offered to move seats, bless her.

It got worse though, every woman on the plane appeared to be Muslim and just as we have been fed propaganda about Islam and rubbish about terrorism being limited to Muslims only, I suspect that the same has been fed to these very peaceful and kind women because hubby stood up, lifted his shirt and started to take off the electrical cord around his waist. He didn’t realise the stir he was causing but in the same way that I have images of people carrying bombs on planes, all of a sudden my hubby looked like the guy with the bomb and four or five women in headscarves and burqa’s watched him taking off his electrical cord and started completely freaking out. I don’t know if they were talking arabic or Malaysian but by the tone of it they were pretty much saying “Big 6ft 5 white guy is taking something off around his waist and it looks like a bomb, OH MY GOD!” – as I saw this happening I was trying to tell hubby that he was freaking the passengers out which simply made him laugh but he was so tired, it almost looked like an evil laugh. Wearing an electrical cord around one’s waist is not easy to take off so this all appeared to be happening in slow motion and I was starting to see images of us being thrown off the plane, it all looked so wrong…

As this was all happening, Miss 4 had noticed the lady in the black burqa across from us and at the top of her voice as hubby is taking off his ‘belt’ screams, “Mum, that lady has no nose or no mouth, where have her nose and mouth gone? Are they in her letterbox”  – No no no! I’m thinking, shhhhhh… the conversation went as follows:

Me: “No darling, she’s not scary, that’s her religion and that’s why she wears those clothes”

Miss 4: “Did her religion cut off her nose and mouth”

Me: “No darling, she has a mouth”

Miss 4: “Where is it? How does she eat?”

Me: “It’s under her special clothes, her special clothes are like her prayers. You know how you say your prayers every night, well that’s kind of the way the lady says her prayers”

AND THEN SHE STARTED AT THE TOP OF HER VOICE (as Hubby is still taking chord off from around his waist):

Miss 4: “Oh, I can say prayers, In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit Amen, Thank you Dear Lord Jesus……”

I put my hand over her mouth and told her Santa wasn’t coming if she uttered one more part of that prayer, we were seriously scaring the lovely Muslim ladies behind me, who were, at this point, well and truly freaking out at what appeared to be a fundamentalist Christian family trying to bomb their plane and well, once it all settled down, I learnt that to avoid difficult situations in the future 1. Give the kids the lowdown on people and culture BEFORE we go away and 2. Pack spare pair of clothes for kids AND Hubby and don’t let anyone explain in gest or otherwise that anyone lives in a letterbox. Kids take everything WAY too literally, honesty is always the best answer.


  1. Dms

    I can almost picture your predicament, kids will be kids and ladies in burqas do attract attention, which is a bit of an anomaly when they are trying to be inconspicuous. It’s easy for little kids to get it wrong, but what was techno hubby thinking? Haha.

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