Dear Princess ‘Ishka,
Frau Geist is a real person. I don’t know her personally, but a friend of mine (D) told me about her. I met D on the oriental pillows of the Weltcafe near the University. We had not seen each other for a while. Now he works for a cooperative with the purpose of integrating people with “particular” behaviors into a non-medicalized social context. Some of them need also psychiatric support, whereas others are more independent and join the cooperative for having a good time and good conversations with the friendly staff.
Frau Geist could be considered a case in-between. She is not a strongly impaired “patient”, but she couldn’t be considered very independent either. Frau Geist thinks that there are hidden cameras in her bathroom, ready to spy her whenever she walks in. No matter how many times D and his co-workers have showed her that there is nothing to fear. They simply haven’t checked enough. Mechanical eyes are always there, waiting for no one but her to take her clothes off in the bathroom.
This “cameras conspiracy” leads to the unpleasant consequence that poor Frau Geist has not been taking a shower for a while. But hygiene is not the only issue here at stake. As a matter of fact, Frau Geist is so scared of espionage, that she hardly walks outside her apartment. For this reason, she wraps herself in a bed sheet with two holes in correspondence of the eyes to get to the cooperative’s place, which is situated in the same building downstairs. A wandering ghost, occasionally fleeing from her demimonde. Unsurprisingly, D has started calling her “Frau Geist” (literally, from German, “Madame Spirit”).
As you can imagine, it is not easy for the cooperative to figure out a way to help her enjoy life outside the building. D told me that they even thought of giving her a Niqab as a present. Even so, she is definitely not going unnoticed, and suspicious glances could give her the final proof that indeed she is being spied. Let alone that, as things stand now, people are going to notice her with their eyes only after having noticed her with their noses.
At any rate, I told D that the Niqab sounds like a wonderful idea. I tried to imagine Frau Geist wrapped in a colorful fabric, taking the subway with the excitement of an unexperienced 007. Then having a walk in a city park, now that summer has started blooming. She inhales slowly, watching the sunrays being fractured by the dark leaves of the imposing chestnuts. She is safe: the Niqab protects her from the indiscreet cameras.
Would you call it freedom? Why not? After all, you can imagine her relaxed joy, when breathing in the open air. She can be like ourselves, and do the things we all do. Someone could claim that she is just crazy. But would it be worth it to lock her up in a hospital room, wasting the precious time of a walk in the park? Doesn’t she deserve to be happy, in her own way, because of her own story?
Next time I am encountering a woman in a Niqab, before thinking about any symbolism or general social phenomenon, I will ask myself if that woman has no better reasons for dressing like that than Frau Geist. For sure, my imagination, however fervid, won’t help me understand the complexity of the life of that person, and of the difficulty of making certain choices.
I think it is out of question that oppression of women can very well be established by means of cultural and religious symbolism. But sometimes, we just think in too general terms to criticize the individual case. And the next woman we see in Niqab could be just like Frau Geist. Free to be outdoor, and happy.