I like to walk. I enjoy walking with others, but I really love walking alone. I take the time to think, pray, listen to Arabic or music, contemplate life, just enjoy my surroundings. When I was at a university studying Arabic, every morning I would arm myself with a bag loaded with my books and a tumbler of coffee in one hand. Then I would make a quick stop to get my breakfast of a cheese pastry before beginning my three mile trek to class. I loved those mornings.
I had some errands that I needed to run in a neighborhood near my house and since the sun was shining, I would walk the two-thirds mile. And because our internet is still out, decided to bring my laptop and utilize the (hopefully) uninterrupted internet while sipping a cup of tea. My hair in braids and donning my favorite super-cute hat, winter coat and Palestinian scarf, I headed out the door to brave the cold. (Yes, in some parts of the Middle East it does, in fact, get quite cold, although I can hear the snickering from those of you more northern folks. I am quite a pansy when it comes to anything cold.)
I usually opt for the side roads rather than main ones when walking because it’s much safer since there’s less traffic. Today I paused just a moment as I surveyed the scene at the intersection of my road with another side road which is apparently closed due to a construction site and the guys trying to fix our neighborhood’s internet. After a moment’s contemplation, I continued on, weaving my way around large holes with guys throwing rocks out of them, gigantic earth moving vehicles and a guy wearing flip flops using a jackhammer. When I had made it halfway down this small street, I was suddenly very aware that everyone had simply stopped. Each of the fifteen or so men were now totally and completely focused on me. Taking a deep breath and bracing myself for the inevitable comments that would soon follow, I continued my journey while their eyes bored into my back.
A left turn and down a hill and I had completely forgotten the unwanted attention until I reached another area where men wait to be picked up for labor-related jobs. Again, the world seemed to stop as I quickly made my way past contemplating what words I would use to shame any man who would dare touch me. I can bring a guy down pretty quickly in two languages (sometimes three if Spanish happens to surface). Thankfully, no strong vocabulary was necessary and I made it to my destination unscathed.
Throughout my tenure in the Middle East, I’ve been stared at, ogled, touched, spit on, had rocks thrown at me and curses spoken over me. I’ve developed a pretty thick skin and an armory of responses as the occasion warrants. But today I was reminded of the difference between being admired and being ogled. A smile returned to my scowling face and my faith in men returned as the guy at the cafe told me that he would bring me my tea. He then very professionally, if not shyly, brought it to me, welcomed me to his country and smiled. I returned his smile, answered his welcome in Arabic, and could see that I had made his day.
Now, back to those emails that have been waiting…