Think of a situation where you’ve felt uneasy, uncomfortable, uncertain while traveling. Did you feel objectified? Were you scared? Did you feel like your safety was compromised? Culture is a huge part of who we are and of what makes us, well, us. As a European woman, I’m extremely privileged and don’t often think about what other people experience in different parts of the world.
This piece has been heavily edited due to the sensitivity of the content. It was originally about a culture struggle in an old relationship that resulted into some unfortunate events and the excerpts below are only ¼ th of the initial piece. The names and addresses used are all fictional to protect the individuals involved.
Remember to be kind.
-M A R I N A
TRIGGER WARNING: Content may be triggering for some audiences
I opened the door and stepped into the cab. The leather seats screeched from the friction as I squirmed in an attempt to get more comfortable. Surprisingly, the a/c was off despite the high temperatures on that early afternoon dry desert-like climate. The smell of cigarettes and sweat was suffocating me. I shut the door, took a moment to gather my thoughts, and looked up. The driver had turned his entire body around to face me and was creepily grinning. He looked dirty, like he hadn’t washed his dark skin for days. His greasy brown hair was dripping sweat on his forehead and his teeth were yellow, like those of a really heavy smoker. I awkwardly smiled back. “216 Abdoun, two blocks down from the CIA base,” I tell him. He mumbles something in Arabic, flashes another smile at me and turns around.
Traffic in Amman, Jordan resembles a Fast and Furious racing scene. There’s no lanes, no speed limit, no order. If you want to pass someone, do it at your own risk. There’s 8, if I remember correctly, roundabouts in a row designed to regulate traffic; however, they only appear to be making it worse. There’s honking and Arabic cursing and angry men stopping in the middle of the road, getting out of their cars and picking fights with someone who cut them off. Seeing all this is one thing, but experiencing it from inside a car is another.
I clench the door handle for support as the cab driver makes a sharp turn to cut someone off. We’re at the second roundabout and there’s cars zooming past us from all different directions. I look out the window, my eyes filled with terror. I’m nervous. Are we going to crash or is someone going to crash into us? A speeding car misses us by a quarter of an inch. I’m frozen, sitting there staring out the window, eyes wide open. I think I just lost three years of my life.
We pull up to Anna’s house and I can hear the music coming from the backyard. The driver turns to face me and creepily stares at me.
“How much?” I ask.
“What are you doing later habibi?”
He reaches back and places his hand on my knee, smiling at me. My heart starts racing. It’s 100 degrees and I’m wearing long baggy pants, an oversized men’s t-shirt and sneakers. I have a backpack with my bathing suit, flip flops, and a dress between my feet, because god forbid I wore something like that outside. Alex warned me about this. He warned me to wait for him to get off work so we can take a cab together, but said I would probably be fine as long as I didn’t dress “provocatively” and kept a low profile.
I glance at the door handle and see that the door is locked. I smile, quickly turn to the door, pull the lock up and open it. I step out of the cab and reach in to hand him the 20 dinars. His expression changes. He grabs my hand with the 20 dinars in it. I aggressively yank my arm away from him throwing the money on the leather seats.
“Islaah,” I say and shut the door.
He revs the engine and drives away. I could tell he’s pissed.
While walking along the desert and enjoying the ruins of the amazing wonder of the world, Petra, I turn around only to realize I’m alone. Alex ran to the car to grab our water bottles and he’ll be right back, I think to myself. I’m feeling confident and safe. I’m surrounded by tourists. Families with children and couples taking photos of one another. On my right, there’s tall red rocks, and on my left there’s little souvenir shop setups where local grandmas are selling their miniature depictions of Petra. A group of five men talking to each other in Arabic are leaning against the rocks on my right and giggling. As I get closer one of them approaches me and says,
“La, islaah,” I say politely and keep walking.
Alex taught me how to say no thank you in Arabic so I can avoid people badgering me, because sellers at places like Petra are very determined and will follow you for miles in their attempt to sell something to you. If you answer in Arabic they assume you’re local or that you’ve been there before so, they leave you alone. The only problem with that is that I could actually pass as a Jordanian. My olive Mediterranean skin becomes significantly darker during the summer so when I say “islaah” people continue talking to me in Arabic.
The man yells something to me and all his friends begin to laugh. I try to ignore them and begin to walk faster. Three of the men jog to catch up to me and begin walking on opposite sides. I’m trying to remain calm and show that I am not affected by their behavior. It sounds like they’re asking me questions, but I don’t understand them, because they’re speaking in Arabic. The laughing gets louder so I turn my head and see one of the men thrusting his hips back and forth.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I yell while hastily backing away.
As I’m getting ready to scream, I see Alex running towards me. He grabs one guy by the shirt and says something in Arabic. He looks scary. The man puts his hands up, smirks and backs away saying something that I would imagine translates to “Relax man, it’s all good.” Alex runs up to me and puts his arms around me. I feel safe. He looks back at them and we walk away.
by Marina Gkritzioudi