"Don't be afraid."

Tuesday, 12 April 2016
We have been here for about six weeks and in all of that time I have not felt afraid or suffered any sort of sexual harassment in Sri Lanka. We visited India for two weeks and I felt uncomfortable there a few times but not here. My mentor at the Fulbright office explained to me that at some point I would likely be made to feel uncomfortable by a male but that when it happens, I just need to be assertive.

I did not bring my wedding rings on this trip or any sort of valuable jewelry but I do wear a silver band on my left hand and regularly mention "my husband" when I'm by myself. The transportation situation here means that I have to be alone in a tuk tuk with male drivers several times a day. So far, everyone has been courteous, friendly, and respectful. Today, I met my first jerk.

It is quite difficult to know what sort of driver you are getting when you hail a tuk tuk. I should have waved this guy on but it is so hot here and I was coming back from an interview in an industrial part of Colombo where there were hardly any women. After I jumped in and he pulled away I noticed that the young man seemed to me to be high as a kite. He talked very quickly in English, his eyes were blood red and glossy, and he did not drive in his lane. (That part is normal but when cars were coming head on and honking he still wouldn't move over.)  He repeated "Princess Diana" numerous times, said he was a fan, discussed my "beauty," and about 10 minutes in the wrong direction I figured out that he was not taking me to Colombo 10, where I had requested. It was 12:00 p.m. so I wasn't scared at this point - I was just annoyed. It got even better.

From: www.closerweekly.com
(This does not look like me.)

After we were finally headed in the right direction he started asking for my phone number, repeatedly. I said, "No. My husband wouldn't like that" and he said that he "wouldn't find out." !? Then he said, "I'll give you my number." I said, "No thank you," and he said, "Don't be afraid, don't be afraid. You are afraid. I'm just a friend, not a lover." Unbelievable. Was this fine person not taking NO for an answer?

I leaned forward, smiled, allowed a beat for a dramatic pause, and said, "I.  AM.  NOT.  AFRAID! I DON'T WANT YOUR PHONE NUMBER!!!" You know what? He sort of looked afraid. We were two blocks from the apartment at that point so I gave him some cash, jumped out, said, "Thanks!" and started walking.

I don't chalk up this joyous tuk tuk experience to a generality about Sri Lankan men and male hegemony - this sort of thing happens to women everywhere, everyday. It is just a reminder to stand up for yourself and abandon ship if you don't feel comfortable in a situation. 

2 comments

Optimistic Existentialist said...

That sounds like the tuk tuk ride to end all tuk tuk rides :) wow...

Cheers from Germany.

Katie Reno said...

You handled that situation perfectly! I would have probably freaked out on the guy, which wouldn't have been good. It's great you stayed calm but were assertive!