Of masks

Stuffed in our masks, we boarded the bus one by one.

Some bus drivers only wear masks because they have to. You can tell by the way they wear them… and let their passengers wear them.

I’m the passenger who covers her nose to board, but pulls her mask down enough to breath during the ride. I figure that if they ask me to cover my nose, I’m obligated. But if I have it covered when I board, they won’t ask me and I won’t feel obligated.

And anyway, this bus driver was the type you didn’t approach with a half-hearted, nose-sticking-out mask job. He asked the lady in front of me to tighten the metal part across her nose.

Masks are odd. We get used to smelling our own breath and inhaling our own carbon dioxide. We see masks looped on forearms, hanging from one ear, or even hanging from rear view mirrors like pairs of fuzzy dice. Where they aren’t required,  we pull them down into beards where they gather the sweat that rolls down our faces under the Spanish sun.

Some masks make me smile behind my own mask, especially the masks that stick out like long beaks. And I want to laugh when I see the occasional gruff man wearing a flowered fabric mask. Some women use their hijabs as masks. And the elderly men lined up on park benches, masks slightly askew, always make me want to snap a picture (and I never do).

Mask-wearing in Spain is still mandatory in public, indoor settings or in crowds of people, such as at the market. Regardless, I am one who forgets on occasion and walks into a store maskless. The last time I did,  neither the other customers nor the clerk were wearing masks. 

When I asked why, the clerk shrugged and said, “It’s hot.”

I wasn’t going to argue with that. It’s one thing for me to wear a mask popping in and out of stores; it’s entirely different to wear a mask day in and day out in a tiny, stuffy grocery store. 

Today on the bus, the driver wasn’t the only one intent on upholding the mask law. 

“Put your mask on well,” an interfering Spaniard barked across the aisle at a North African. 

The conversation took two seconds to escalate. Neither side gave in. Other passengers  whipped their heads around. The bus driver slowed. 

“Wearing this makes me want to vomit! Do you want me to vomit?!”

“You were told to wear your mask when you got on board, you have to wear it well. It’s obligatory.”

I tried to tune out the voices until, “YOU’RE A RACIST!” 

How did a health issue suddenly turn political? I guess the U.S. isn’t the only country with resentment and conspiracy theories simmering under every surface, frustrated behind every mandatory mask. 

As for me, I didn’t dare tug my mask below my nose on this ride. Maybe that’s why I got so sleepy and almost missed my stop!

Irritating?

Being immersed in a new culture reveals that some cultural customs are bad, some are neutrally different, and some are good… sometimes better than they are in our own culture.

Quite honestly, something in this culture grates on my nerves. It doesn’t happen every day, but when it does, I find it inexpressibly irritating.

As I walk along the street,  I meet passersby who look like they lead normal North African lives. Then without warning, one of these normal-looking people veers in my direction and holds out their hand for money. It’s as if seeing me, a foreigner, makes them remember they are not satisfied with their normal lives.

Irritating? Quite. I am a victim of racial profiling.

Well, today as I walked to school, I began to rethink this irritation of mine. What if, instead of looking at me and recognizing their lack of money, they looked at me and recognized their lack of something much greater, Someone much greater? What if, by seeing me (not as a foreigner, but as a friend), they realize that they are not satisfied to live a normal life?

And when that happens, will I be ready or will I be irritated to share what I have?