On a purse shopping expedition, I encountered a black patent leather stunner. I cradled her over to the mirror to confirm what I knew—I would take her home. The mirror had other plans…this mammoth mom-purse could fit over my head and shoulders. I carry only a wallet, keys, and cell phone—which could fit into a lunch sack. A sales associate rushed over just as I prepared my rejection speech. She insisted the bag was very stylish like me, blah blah blah. (As if one could separate an Indian from her money that easily.) Despite her efforts to earn her commission, I would save my money for something…smaller. But then she uttered the magic words:  You can sneak snacks into the movie theater with this bag. She had done her racial-profiling homework. Impressive. I thought of the samosas and chutney I could smuggle into the next chick flick—and the $7 Junior Mints I would never buy again. The bag would pay for itself in twenty-two months. SOLD.

      I lived thirty years in NY, LA, and SF. I grew up unaccustomed to the racism that pervades the Southern US, where I’ve had unsavory brushes with even educated people. One doctor called me Salma Bin Laden. Yes…Osama bin Laden is my cousin. What gave me away?  My facial hair?    

       In California, I had patients of all varieties—from prostitutes to bartenders, from mad scientists to women with hairy pits who drank their own pee—and everyone in between. About half of my patients had AIDS. “Different” has never fazed me. And as one who frowns upon xenophobia (and true to Californian form), I have chosen not to care about skin color. I’m cultured and cosmopolitan, dontcha know? I got an A+ in Spanish. I eat Ethiopian food. But now—living in the South—I care…in a self-protective jaded way.

     As an introvert who dreads sitting next to strangers who won’t let me read, I should have rejoiced over my row partner on a flight from LAX to DFW. This cutesy plane had two seats on each side of the aisle with no middle seat.  I boarded and took my window seat. I dove into my Twilight book just in time for some noisy boarders to interrupt my me time. I sighed and shot a quick glance up at a fair-skinned blue-eyed Hercules with shaved head; arms, hands, and neck decorated in tattoos. A woman and children accompanied him. His family took their seats behind and across from me as he sat next to me. And I thought to myself: Just what this man wants—having to sit next to a brown person on an airplane. Not today, Lord…not in the mood for the icy stare down. Disclaimer: I do not take issue with shaved heads, big muscles and tattoos.  My husband has a shaved head and big muscles, and I’ve begged him to get an adorable Jesus tattoo. But my “Southern experiences” had this passenger pegged as one who would have a “White Power” tattoo. 

        I tried to get back to Bella and Edward. But this family made it evident to all aboard that they lived in the Dallas area. (I knew it. Not Californians.)  The crew narrated the take-off rituals. So why did this man have his body turned, back to me, with his tree-trunk legs blocking the narrow aisle? Even after take-off he had not budged, remaining engaged with his kids. The safety control freak in me kicked in: Doesn’t he know that in the event of this 40,000-pound jet crashing, that thin blue strap could save his life? But of course…my ethnicity so repulses him that he would rather risk his safety than have to see me. And why won’t the FAA Police write him No Seat Belt and Blocking Aisle citations? I brooded, puzzled and offended.

       Bible study! Landing in one hour. I put away Breaking Dawn and scrambled for my workbook and pen. Fifteen ladies in my living room…my Bible flying below me in third class…this isn’t happening…Bible app? Nope—airplane mode.

      Mr. Tattoos got up and retrieved a worn leather bound book and journal from the overhead bin. Seated properly, he now gave me opportunity to see what I could not earlier—one wrist tattoo in Hebrew; another from Proverbs on his arm. Desperate to finish my homework I struck up conversation by asking if that was a Bible on his tray. Yes—ESV. I gulped and asked his denomination. He grew up Baptist but no longer cleaves to a denomination. I had the audacity to ask if I could borrow his Bible. He graciously agreed. I asked where he goes to church.  His response: “I’m a missionary pastor. I travel the world preaching.” I swallowed again just as he added, “I’m going to India next.”  My face turned hot. God spoke to me in my spirit: Who are you to judge my servant and make superficial assumptions—the same ones that throw you into convulsions when others do it to you? After landing he picked up the adolescent child he had fixated upon. He carried her off in his arms. She’s disabled.

American-born Salma Gundi graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary in 2017 with a Masters in Biblical and Theological Studies. Salma has a passion for leading women, and has led women's Bible studies, and multiple small groups for women who grew up in dysfunctional homes. Salma enjoys speaking at women's events, and is known by the catchphrase, "Stop faking the funk—start keeping it real." She hopes to continue ministering to women through writing, speaking, and teaching. Salma, who grew up in California miles from the Pacific Beaches, came to saving faith in 1991 after a Campus Crusade for Christ Creation vs Evolution debate. The (unofficial) black sheep of her family, she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Feather Ruffling. Her consanguineous relatives consume a strict vegetarian diet, and were it not for lobster with lemon butter sauce, she would do the same. Salma's husband is a psychotherapist, and also at graduate of DTS.