Rants / Woman in Public

Listen [BSonblast #5]

[WARNING: EXPLICIT LANGUAGE]

_

I’m at my wit’s end.

I can’t take it anymore. I can’t take the daily 3 minute walk of shame from my place of employment to the main street. I can’t take the stares, the slowing cars, the whispers, the yells, the catcalls, the whistles, the honking.

I know I’m not that fine.

So what is it? Why is it that my sensibilities have to be offended daily? Why is it that every day I have to have my personal space invaded, accosted, violated? I’m sick of this shit. I’m so sick of it. I’m beyond sick of it. Words are not available to describe how wholly, utterly, completely, definitely through I am with this shit.

I was walking the same God forsaken street three days ago trying to catch another damn ride to my other job, when I spotted a group of 5 young men sitting with a sit shai [tea vendor]. I spotted them because they spotted me, and I felt them spotting me. I contemplated giving up my usual corner (all prostitution innuendo intended, because that’s how these streets make you feel) to stand across the street. Just to be safe. But then I thought

Girl, not everyone is looking at you.

So off to my regular corner I went. They watched me as I crossed the street to their side of the road. I watched them watch me. My disgusted look did not deter them. They huddled closer to eachother, discussing, looking back, flashing smiles. I rolled my eyes, got to my preferred cab-catching spot, and stopped. The 5 of them got up, and started to walk towards me.

Ugh, this shit. Whatever. Don’t jump the gun.

As they approached, they broke off, much in the way that wild dogs break off in formation when hunting. I raised an eyebrow as two of these assholes took the left and right flank, while the remaining three came up the middle. By the time they reached my spot, they were in a semi-circle formation. I cocked my head back like, “you have got to be fucking kidding me”. They weren’t.

The semi circle started to close in. Before I knew it, I was surrounded. It was rush hour, but it felt like someone hit mute on my life. I could hear my inner voice cussing life and everything about it. The three slowed down as they got closer, until they were literally inching their way past me. By this time, they were so close to me that I could feel their breath on me. I found myself scoffing, even though there wasn’t a damn thing funny about this situation.

I looked past them at the street. Two girls across the street watched with half smiles on their faces – surprise? amusement? Who knows.

At the pace of a snail on rufies, the group finally passed me. I looked in their direction, as they all turned back, boyband style, and smiled at me. I guess I should be thankful.

I should be thankful that every day I feel a little less happy with myself: the way i look, the way I dress, the impression I give, the fact that I was born a girl. I should be thankful that every day I am forced to question myself, my choices, my personality, my morals, because you won’t let up. Because you won’t keep your thoughts, or your hands, or your car horns to yourself. Because you won’t let me live.

The weather was really nice yesterday. You know what I did? Fucked up and smiled when I came out the office. Made the mistake of taking the walk of shame with a spring in my step. Somehow, that meant for you to slow down more, like today my self-respect took a break. What? Get in your car and have sex with you for money? You know, usually I’d be mad, but the weather is just so gorgeous, why not! YOLO, am I right?

______________________________

An hour ago, I took the walk of shame from my first job to catch an amjad [type of minivan cab] to my second job. I was lucky – I didn’t have to wait that long. As I approached “my corner”, an amjad passed by; I flagged it down.

He approached, and we engaged in the song and dance of bartering.

Me: I need to go to Khartoum 2. How much?
Him: The suitable price
Me: Which is…?
Him: 35
Me: No, thank you. <backs away from vehicle>
Him: What would you pay? <smiles>
Me: 25. That’s what I pay every day.
Him: Uw 3ashani Ana? [And for me] What would you pay? <sleazier smile, wink>

______________________________

So go ahead and tell me how I should suck it up. Tell me how I should just “ignore it” because this is just “a few stupid guys” and how there’s no point in getting angry because there’s nothing I can do about it because “that’s life”. Tell me how it’s not “a big deal” and how I should, “just, like, take it as a compliment”. The same men who will whistle and catcall and grab are the same ones you’ll trust to make a judgement about me, my attitude, my way of dress, my uncovered head, and how my parents raised me.

While we’re at it, go ahead and tell me what factors are increasing my chances of getting harassed on the street. Tell me that my head is uncovered and that means I’m a loose girl who’s down for anything with anyone. Tell me how my pants attract too much attention, that my jeans show too much. Tell me that’s why all these men have something to say to me, that’s why they don’t respect me. Tell me that’s why I should wear a scarf, I should wear a skirt, I should wear a burka. But then go ahead and also tell me how the prostitutes in Khartoum wear headscarves to go undetected, wear burkas to go undetected, wear niqaab to go undetected. Tell me that’s why those men flashed their headlights at me, stopped their cars for me.

Tell me how I put myself in these situations, that I’m not careful enough, that I have to be more mindful of my behavior. Tell me that I talked too loud, that I seemed too comfortable with men, that I looked too friendly, that I looked too “free”. Tell me how my English made them think I had no limits, that I was easy, that I like it. Tell me that’s why my old ass driving instructor thought it would be okay to talk to me about my love life and that I would be happy with his advances. Tell me that’s why that stranger thought it was okay to put his hand on my leg, that’s why that amjad driver thought it was okay to take the long way home that one time. Tell me how, anyway, I shouldn’t be working after sunset, because “that’s just asking for it”. Tell me how it’s “understandable” that a man could mistake me for a street whore because I was out at night. Tell me how all those things you mentioned are also the reason why no one helped me, why no one stood up for me, why men and women looked at me like I deserved it.

Or better yet, go ahead and tell me that I’m imagining it. Tell me that it’s not really happening at all, and even if it was, that it’s not that nearly that frequent. Tell me that I’m just being paranoid, that

“Sudanese men aren’t like that”

Tell me how because I grew up abroad, I don’t speak Arabic well enough, that I don’t “really get” Sudanese culture yet, that I don’t understand the nuances, that I misinterpret words and body language. Tell me “that’s probably why” I’m misconstruing friendliness for harassment. Tell me not to use that word, ‘harassment’, that I don’t know what “real harassment” is, that I’m using it out of context and “bazlum fil nas” [misjudging people]. Tell me how all the unwanted advances are just “misunderstandings”, that I “must have done something to give him the wrong idea. Did you smile?”. Tell me how my smile can mean that I want to sell my body.

I’m listening.

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7 thoughts on “Listen [BSonblast #5]

  1. I’m going to say this… I absolutely understand the frustration, but I look at it this way (when I’m in a good mood): Every minute that we walk around this city and dress how we want to and smile if we want to and catch attitude if we want to and walk with that NY swag when we’re feeling it, we are, in effect, protesting. We aren’t letting this sick society and these f***ed up men determine how we will live our lives. And when I’m feeling good and got that NY in my strut, I don’t give a f*** who’s looking at me and what they’re thinking. (As you know, that’s not always true, but sometimes…) So keep being who you are and looking like you are cause as much as folks want to control us, we exude a certain freedom that so many are afraid to exhibit. And I LOVE that.

  2. Dude, I just found your blog today and now I’m getting mad at everything in Sudan again. Whyyy?! I just got all zen about it all and now look! But seriously, nice writing style. Kudos!

  3. Sudanese society is still extremely naive about anything outside their culture. It scares them because other cultures are just so foreign. The idea of being an individual, being different, has really not settled in yet, and what I fear is that it never will. People like you and I are alienated because our people are too closed minded.

    It’s the same reason the regime never changes and the rest of the country is not evolving: the people are resistant to certain change. From a civil standpoint, they refuse acceptance civil freedoms as simple as walking around without a scarf on, or wearing something nontraditional. It’s weird to me the contrast between traditional values and technological change, because I believe the two are attached, as values evolve, so does technology. As American society became less stringent, technology evolved as well, and that’s why the society maintains some type of balance. When the two are not proportionally paid attention two, there’s a wacky result, and that’s what I think Sudan is.

    That’s why I fear our people’s strange mindsets may not be changing anytime soon.. All I can hope is that people take action and change that, and all I can do for you is advise you to keep your head up and ignore them until they are aware of their naivety.

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