A week ago I got harassed by a man here in Albania.
What happened was that I walked to the river we were (wild)camping at to wash myself and there was a man who beckoned me over, so I went to say hello. Like, you know, a polite person.
After the usual awkward attempt of saying good morning without having a common language I told him I didn’t understand what he was saying, with a smile and a I don’t understand hand gesture.
Mind you, what I described so far is an almost daily occurrence for us. Most people we meet are very friendly and curious and want to know what and how and why. So far so good.
However, this man apparently thought it appropriate to step closer, lean into me and grab my ass as I tried to step away from him. And I don’t mean ‘accidentally brushing against me’ but full on grabbing. He backed off when I shouted for Antonio and then continued on his way like nothing happened, perhaps slightly disappointed that I was not such an easy target as he thought.
Not the first time.
This wasn’t the first unpleasant encounter I’ve had on this trip. We have been on the road almost four months and three times there have been instances where local men have made an unwanted move. First in Iran a man on a motorbike rode next to me and forced me to slow down by pushing me onto the road so he could grab my chest (but he missed, sucker!) another man tried to kiss me in a bathroom he was cleaning and where I was washing my hands. And now this moron.
I am not easily scared. I have travelled a lot on my own and have never let previous harassment stop me from doing so, although I am now travelling with a partner.
But dammit, I just want to be able to say goodmorning.
Even though ‘nothing’ ‘really’ happened, and I can consider myself lucky for that, this time was different. You see, every time something like this happens it chips away at your agency, your sense of security and every time it happens it makes me doubt myself a little more, even though I know I shouldn’t.
Should I not have said good morning?
(Even though this has let to countless interesting meetings in the past)
Maybe I shouldn’t be enjoying remote wild places?
(Even though the same can, no, WILL happen in a bar in Amsterdam)
Maybe I should never go anywhere without a male companion at my side – literally?
(Are you fucking kidding me?)
Maybe I should dye my hair, or carry a taser, or just not talk to people at all, or curl up against my partner and cry and bawl with anger and fear and frustration?
(The last certainly made me feel better)
Or maybe, maybe, we can hope for a world where men (yes, yes, I know, not all men etc.) stop being douchebags that think women are literally up for grabs?
Seriously though, I was particularly upset after this incident and for the remainder of our time in Albania I did not feel safe, held back in my contact with the locals and ocassionally started crying at random moments. This is a really exhausting way to travel. At one point I just wanted to go home. I thought that maybe facing this form of harassment is just the price you pay as a travelling woman, and maybe that it wasn’t worth it anymore.
But then I thought about the countless time I have faced (mild) harassment at home. The handbrush on your back in the bar. The crotch pressed against you in a crowded train. The icky comment of your coworker. The wanker doing what he does best in a public bus. Etcetera. You know what I’m talking about.
Being on the road hardly increases the risk for women of being harassed. It is not just a ‘risk we take for travelling’. It is a risk of being alive, as a woman, anywhere in the world.
Granted, yes, some countries have a stronger culture of violence against women, despite being popular travel destinations. India or South Africa come to mind as an example. Yes, some extra vigilance is probably warranted, because as a tourist you might be an easier target. But please, please don’t let it keep you from travelling because the idea that you will be safer at home is an illusion.