When I was around seven years old, the boys would gather to play football. I often deserted my assigned post as a goalie to be indoors with my cousin Maysoon. Maysoon loved dolls but couldn’t afford them so she would stitch old fabric and cut out pieces from blankets and draw over them with lipstick and watercolors to create dolls. Nothing made me more envious, or happy, than those stolen moments with Maysoon — when I would sit next to her, in her little bedroom, to help bring something to life.
There is a photo of me around that age. I have earrings on and am wearing a Dumbo shirt. If I’m being honest, I didn’t know who Dumbo was. It took me finding that photo and zooming into the elephant on my shirt to look up the cartoon. As the story goes, Dumbo, the circus elephant, was born into the world with enormous ears. His odd ears become a source of mockery and bullying.
In my enormous family, within our small village, my demeanors as a seven-year-old – and then as a thirteen-year-old, and then as an eighteen-year-old – became the elephant in the room. It wasn’t just leaving the goalie position to help Maysoon design dolls. It was my obsession with fabric and belly dancers, my at-home theatre productions, and the classroom drawings.
I started to realize that maybe what seemed most natural to me was something that needed to be compressed into a little box, hidden underneath the bed.
And I’m not alone. We’ve all spent years muting ourselves, mastering the art of invisibility, and teaching ourselves to shrink, to be small.
When Dumbo realized that his ears are large because they help him fly, everything changed for him. At the circus, the audience sat back, mesmerized, watch- ing this little elephant soar into the sky as though nothing could contain him.
I guess what I’m trying to ask is, what happens when we recognize the elephant in the room? When we open the door and let it out? What happens to the elephant, to us, to the room, and to the world the elephant is finally allowed to step into?
It took me many years, many trials and errors, to realize that our oddness is what gives us our power. That in our oddness there is wonder and resistance. In our oddness, there is room for reimagination and continuity. In our oddness there is magic.
Written by Nur Turkmani 
Photographed by Aly Saab