I was talking with one of my married male classmates the other day and we talked about public transport. I said that rickshaws were my least favorite mode of transport. He kind of laughed and asked why. He assumed, I suppose, because they are less than safe and some of the drivers are a bit careless. I told him it was because I didn’t like the 1-on-1ness–that it usually leads to an uncomfortable situation. He was clearly surprised and asked if it really was an issue. To which I responded, “Yes! All the time.” And it struck me that our lives here were very different in a lot of ways as foreigners here simply because he is a dude.
I’m not saying that all rickshaw drivers are bad fellows. And it’s not just them. But young guys frequently make comments to me on the street. It’s not a big deal. Its just, for whatever reason, happened with more regularity this week. I want to yell at them in Arabic sometimes. But I refrain, of course. However if anyone ever tries to touch me inappropriately or anything (which has happened to some lady friends here) I am fully prepared to yell at them and shame them. This is a culturally appropriate response to their culturally completely inappropriate behavior.
It’s not just the comments either. Even just living as a single lady here is more difficult in many ways. My roommate and I have to take care of all of the stuff for the house ourselves. Stuff that men would normally do here–pay for the internet and electricity, buy the groceries, get the gas canisters filled, take care of repairs etc, we have to ourselves out of necessity. I know this is true for single gals even in the states too, but it’s a bit different here because in those places (the electricity place, the market) it’s always men in there and its a little weird that ladies are taking care of those things. And when you are the only lady in a place…it’s just uncomfortable. I dunno. (BUT as a result of this situation I was forced to play plumber and I fixed our leaky toilet myself! Yay for new life skills!)
One last little complaint–I can’t socialize with folks as much. I can’t be chatty with my fruit guy or ducaan (corner shop) man. I have to feel a little bit rude sometimes as to be cautious not be overly friendly and therefore send across completely the wrong message. Its sometimes hard being culturally appropriate as a person that does not exist in that culture. Meaning–it’s hard to do the right things sometimes or even know what the right things are when being a single 20-something female living alone–a person that essentially doesn’t even exist in this culture. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. I dunno, I can’t make sense out of things half the time anyway.
I will say, though, that because it is such a male dominated society, there is a greater showing of chivalry here than I experience in the States. The bus actually comes to a complete stop for women to get on and off instead of rolling for men. When I’m looking a fool trying to carry a gas canister up to our second floor apartment the guy doing construction next door will help me. Some young guys were talking about me on the bus one day and an older man stopped them. Men have given me their seat on the bus before.
It’s a weird sort of dichotomy.