Photo Credit: Kiyonah Mya Buckhalter
Traveler Story: What It's Like Traveling The World Solo As A Black Niqabi
Kiyonah Mya Buckhalter has been traveling the world since she was just a child. Now a 23-year-old solo-traveling niqabi, her travel experiences today are somewhat different from those of her youth. Growing up, the New York native visited many destinations with her family.
“My parents would often take my brother and I on cruises to the Caribbean,” said the content creator and owner of Muslim lifestyle brand Jayonamarie. We visited places like Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Mexico, and Hawaii when I was younger.”
Kiyonah embarked on her first solo travel experience at the age of 18, when she spent a semester abroad studying in Florence, Italy. Today she has visited 24 countries and continues to explore the world on her own. But unlike her earlier travels, she now does so wearing the niqab, or Islamic face veil. Having converted to Islam, Kiyonah made the decision to begin wearing the niqab three years ago.
“I’m so proud of my religion of Islam. I love leaving my home wearing my hijab and niqab because it’s a reminder of my faith. I had for many years of my life flaunted my physical beauty for the world to see. I used to only be concerned about being the prettiest girl in the room. Now when I’m entering a room, I am more concerned about having the best character, being kind, graceful, supportive, loving, and showing all the characteristics that Islam has taught me to have. Niqab means freedom to me. The freedom to hand pick who is deserving to see all of me. Niqab means honor and control of my body.”
Initially, Kiyonah’s parents were shocked by her decision to veil her face. However, they were accepting of her choice and eager to learn about about the niqab. They remained supportive and did not interfere or try to stop their daughter from doing what she felt was right for her.
“They felt that people would perceive their sweet ‘baby girl’ as an extremist or something they should be afraid of. The only images they knew of veiled women were the one that are shown in images of terrorist groups.”
Kiyonah’s family and friends were even more concerned about her safety as she began traveling abroad solo as a niqabi.
“Muslims are consistently targeted throughout the world. Islam has gotten a bad rap due to the heinous actions of other people claiming to be Muslim.”
People’s intolerance for Islam can be seen not only in hijab and burkini bans, but also in attacks of innocent Muslims that have taken place around the world. However, Kiyonah remains steadfast and strong, ever proud of her religion and willing to tackle any challenges that may arise head on.
Fortunately, she has never experienced any harmful treatment during her travels. However, one of the first things she noticed as a hijabi and niqabi is the way in which her experiences at the airport have become different.
“Before being visibly Muslim, going through TSA was breeze. I was stopped here and there for packing oversized toiletries, but nothing major. Now, as a niqabi, those ‘random’ pat downs and ‘random’ checks of my hands for dangerous substances are quite consistent. It is unfortunate that they see me as suspicious due to my garments.”
When it comes to locals and other travelers from different parts of the world, people’s reactions to seeing Kiyonah range from rude stares and frowns to compliments and smiles.
“While walking down the narrow streets of Santorini, people were almost falling on top of one another trying to get a good look at me. Some of their stares were a little uninviting. I understand that my image can be quite different from what they’re used to, but you should never break your neck to stare at someone.”
“I do also get compliments quite often. People will tell me they love my outfit or they love how modest and confident I am. Also in Greece, I had a group of young girls come up to me and compliment my outfit and style. It’s nice when fellow Muslims come give me salams, too.”
Having returned to the Dominican Republic as a niqabi, the country stood out as one where the locals were particularly welcoming and encouraging of Kiyonah’s attire.
“It’s so uncommon to see women dressed modestly that many men and women were positively in awe at how modest I was on the beaches. I think they found my modesty refreshing. I had many random people compliment me and tell me ‘Don’t stop being modest!'”
Many people’s reactions are likely based upon them being intrigued by the niqab and the mystery it allows, as well as their curiosity about Muslims and Islam in general. Oftentimes, their interest leads them to ask questions, making way for a dialogue. Kiyonah has found that these teachable moments serve as a healthy way to help people learn and challenge their misconceptions.
“I think it’s still hard for people to comprehend that there are American-born Muslims. A lot of people automatically assume that I am from Africa or the Middle East. They are curious to know how I became a Muslim. I enjoy having these conversations with people abroad about my religion and attire as long as it remains respectful from both of us. I take it as an opportunity to dismantle the negative stereotypes that some people have of Islam and of Black people.”
Kiyonah recently started a new travel series on her Instagram titled Spin the Globe and Go. In the series, she spins the globe four times and chooses one of the four countries she lands on to be her next travel destination.
“A goal of mine is to visit every country in the world. I’m not picky on the sequence; I just want to see as much of this beautiful world as I can. Lately, it’s been quite cold and uninspiring in New York City. I wanted to tap into my adventurous side with this new series.”
With her four spins, Kiyonah landed on Canada, Chile, Jordan, and China. Having been to China already, she decided to eliminate it and choose from the remaining three options. Chile and Canada had more COVID restrictions that would prevent her from traveling this month, so she selected Jordan and will be heading to the country soon.
“During the series, I want to inspire people to travel. I want people to see what traveling looks like through the lens of a Black Muslim woman and niqabi. With each place I visit, I unlock a new part of myself. I learn new strengths, new weaknesses. I learn how to adapt to new insecurity situations. I have become more outgoing and confident. And I’ve learned how to love my own company.”
You can follow Kiyonah and her Spin the Globe series on Instagram at @the_k.mb.