“Mommy! Look! A genie!!!” My daughter shrieked with surprise and wonder.
“A genie? Where?” my son demanded. Catching sight of the gentleman who had just settled himself by the window in the IKEA cafeteria he exclaimed loudly, “There he is! Mommy, it really IS a genie! Will he give us a wish?”
“He’s not our genie,” my daughter said matter-of-factly, her tone relaying that she wondered how her brother could be so out of touch with genie reality.
The cafeteria at IKEA is loud, despite the abundance of absorbent Swedish meatballs. My kids, however, were louder and I had no doubt the man with the turban and full beard heard every word of their exchange.
“Shush! He is NOT a genie. He’s a Sikh.”
“Not a genie?” My kids echoed, confused.
“He’s a sheik,” my son whispered to my daughter, thinking he had it figured out. “They are rulers, like kings.”
“No. A Sikh, it’s a religion.” I tried to keep my voice low but still loud enough to be heard over the clatter of plates and silverware and the fuss of other people’s children. Just moments before I had been basking in the glow of finally making a trip to IKEA without one kid or the other throwing themselves on the floor kicking and screaming.
This might actually be worse.
I stole a glance. The man was staring fixedly out of the window, alone at his table. There was no indication on his face that he approved or disapproved. I wondered what it was like being such a visible minority. My kids were surely not the first ones to be shocked by his appearance. I expected that it was highly likely, given the locale, that plenty of uneducated people had said or done some really terrible things. I was curious what he thought about my kids (who had never witnessed someone wearing a real live turban before) thinking he was a genie. It would make ME laugh, but then I am not him. I have not lived his reality in this county.
“What’s a Sikh?” they almost shouted in unison.
“I’ll tell you later,” I muttered, suddenly self conscious about what he would think about my attempt to explain his religion.
I distracted them by pulling out a spelling app on my phone. I save electronics for emergencies and this was an emergency. It worked, thankfully. They were instantly mesmerized by the glow of my screen…
On the long drive home I tried to talk to them about Sikhism, why they don’t cut their hair, what the turbans mean and how important they are. My kids were less curious than I expected about a belief system that is so different from ours. I think the fact that he was not magical and could not grant wishes killed it all. Meanwhile, it occured to me how do you raise culturally sensitivite kids when they are around so little of it?