This is my itty-bitty contribution for the Blank Noise Project's blog-athon and is dedicated to Hemangini. The courage that you showed was 15 years too late for me, but perhaps 15 years in time for my daughter.
I was raised in a fairly liberal community where your race, gender, religion or sexuality was never a barrier to anything you wanted to do in life. In high school I was woefully average but I had a good group of friends whom I held close to my heart. I spent 10 months in India in-between high school and university. This move was equal parts of finding more about the place I came from as well as taking a break. However, the day I touched down in Kerala, I regretted my decision for coming. I'm not sure if it was my clothes or hair or demeanor but people, mainly men, leered and stared. I cried when my dad dropped me off at the hostel which would be my home away from home for the next year. Luckily, my older sister was with me and I have never felt so grateful for the company. She quickly made friends with some people and I just enjoyed spending time with my journal and my music. (U2 and New Order helped me through those first few weeks). Within a few months we were in 2 distinct groups. My sister was with a sweet group that listened to every rule and spent a lot of time studying whereas I was with a group of girls identified as rabble-rousers. This clearly had more to do with how they dressed then anything else. They were all girls who received high marks but happened to be raised in Kuwait and dressed in jeans. I quickly became known as "the American" and had a great time with my friends. The funny thing was that our reputation was far-more outlandish than what we were actually doing. We were hardly ever late for our curfew and if we were, it was because we waited too long to decide that we must go get some food to to sustain us for the night (the hostel food was pretty bad). Most times, the watchman would let us through if we gave him a meatpuff or a package of cookies. However, some nights the mean administrator lady would be waiting for us and lecture us about how proper young women do not walk in the street alone once the sun sets. One time, this same woman pulled me aside and said that I seemed like a sweet girl and I shouldn't let my reputation be ruined by my association with these other girls. I was stunned. There was NOTHING in these girl's behavior that warranted such comments. I thanked her for her concern and ran and told my friends. They laughed off the comment and said their marks spoke themselves and I shouldn't take stock in what she said. About a week later, 4 of us were making our usual bakery run when my friend and I turned around to find a man exposing himself to us. I still dry-heave when I think of his face as he stroked himself. My friend and I were too stunned to talk but when our friend Nina turned and saw what was happening she started yelling at the top of her lungs. She made quite a scene and someone identified the man as a tailor who had a shop down the street. The 4 of us ran back to the hostel and quickly told the head lady. She asked what we expected when we ran around in jeans and t-shirts.
There are other incidents such as being "accidentally" groped while on a bus or being verbally accousted when my friend wore a sundress. Back then I didn't have the courage to say anything. However, the birth of my children has assured that a stranger's wayward hand or sexual innuendo will never again pass unanswered.
- Action Hero Mint Chutney