Every day, I walk down the road. I am either walking to school, or walking down to catch a van to town so that I can buy my groceries. When I go to school, I usually look for a child to walk with. I hold their hand and use them as a human shield so that I have an excuse to not answer when it inevitably happens. I get hit on or “complimented” by someone who thinks they have the right to reduce me to what I look like. It’s not flattering. It’s harassment. It makes me feel small. I know it shouldn’t, but it does.
We were told early on that we would have to develop our own strategy for dealing with this. We could ignore it. We could acknowledge it. I do a combination. I usually greet them before they get a word out. By the time my good morning is out, and they’ve returned theirs, I’m too far down the road to continue the interaction. Sometimes I pretend I don’t hear it. But I do. And it makes me feel like an idiot.
So many here make me feel strong. They make me feel appreciated. They thank me. They do things that make me proud. They make my time here feel significant. Then it happens again, and I’m just the sexy whitey with the big ass (funny when a friend says it, less funny when someone you don’t know says it). Every bit of the day that made me feel good comes tumbling down and exhaustion takes over.
I don’t cry about it. I don’t cry at all. I won’t let myself, not here. Tears represent a line that I refuse to cross.
I am lucky to be here. I worked hard to be here. I work with people who want me here, with kids who hug me. When they tell me I’m beautiful, my heart swells. They say it because they know me. The kids say it because I tell them that they are beautiful and they like my weird yellow hair. Those I work with also tell me that they’re proud of me, that I do a god job, that I’m smart. They build me up. They make this worth it. Every day I walk home from school with a smile on my face, no matter how frustrating my day was, because I have the hand of a first grader in each of mine. We walk together and tell each other what we’ll eat for a snack when we get home or what we did that day. We’ll skip across the stones in the river to get to the other side.
Then it happens. The noise that I hear every day that brings hot anger to my chest. The kissing noise. Like when you are trying to call a dog. But they’re trying to call me. It’s especially insulting because if all they wanted to get was my attention, they could say, “excuse me miss”, or “good day”, or I would even accept “hey white girl!” I’ve had many good introductions that started with one of these. But no, they have to call me like an animal. Sometimes I shoot them a look that I hope will actually cause them to wither into a little mushroom, but I think that’s what they want.
Once the boiling anger leaves, I simmer, then the water goes cold and I’m left exhausted. I don’t want to leave the house again until I have to, or until I have my little friends with me to tell me what they had for breakfast that morning.
I didn’t write this to make anyone feel bad for me. This is for people, all over the world that are treated or made to feel like they are less than human. Especially, those in the Peace Corps who, like me, are experiencing this for the first time. We can’t just flip them the bird like we might have done in the States, before we were supposed to be role models. We’ll figure it out. We know better than to let this ruin our day, even though it sometimes does. Maybe one day I’ll wear them down with kindness and I’ll be a human to them with feelings and everything. In the meantime, I’ll hope they turn into mushrooms so they can feel how I do.