Dear friendly man on the street, I'm sorry that I ignored your "hello" today. I'm sorry that I looked away when you smiled at me. I'm sorry that I crossed the street when you waved. I'm sorry. Please understand; I wasn't trying to be rude. I wasn't trying to offend you. I was just afraid. Because how could I know? How could I know your intentions? Last week, the man who said "hello" followed me down the street asking where I live. Yesterday, the guy who smiled at me spoke perverse things. Last night, the men who waved at me tried to persuade me into their car. How could I have known?
I was out on a Friday night playing table tennis with some friends. A guy stepped in to challenge me to a game, and I accepted. He was good. I was better. We laughed. After a 5-minute rally, he leaned around the table to shake my hand in victory. "Soy Miguel," he introduced himself. We talked for a minute about work and study and travel. I love making new friends, don't you? The next thing I knew, he was putting a pretty drink in my hand. I curiously took a sip. Made a face. "Lo siento, no me gusta," I told him. I saw a hint of a frown. "Drink it," he insisted. I tried again, this time passing the drink back. "I really don't like it." I looked around for my friends, but couldn't find them in the swelling crowd. I felt a hand slip around my waist, and another push the cold glass towards my lips. "Tú necesitas beber," he yelled over the music, forcing a smile. He towered over me, and I felt insignificant and powerless. It was dizzying.
------------ This afternoon I made my trip to the laundry, walked through the cathedral park, and bought little pastries from the bakery on the corner. The pigeons cooed and the breeze tugged at my cardigan and the sun warmed my hair. It was all perfect, and yet; I was tense. I fixed my gaze on the cobbled stone road ahead, and tried to evade the looks of men sitting on benches or lingering in doorways. I ignored the greetings. Instead of soaking in the attention, I felt uncomfortable and intimidated. "Hola bonita," the men winked. "Donde tú vas?" I walked faster. "Come back chica," called one man as I quickly crossed the road. "I love you," muttered another. A car rolled up beside me, and I was so distracted by my mission that I didn't notice the passenger door opening. A group of young guys spilled out. "Buenas tardes chica," they leered. "Where do you want to go, pretty girl?" ------------ I've been living in Antigua, Guatemala for almost 2 months. In my first weeks here, I walked down the streets with a grin. How could I not? The buildings were splashed in gorgeous colour, a majestic volcano loomed over the town, and children set off fireworks while their parents wove fabrics and served quesadillas to passers-by. It was enough to make anyone skip with glee. And the people - oh, the people! So friendly. So warm. So open. I loved waving at strangers, and the smiles and shouts of "Hola!" and "Buenos Dias!". I felt like Belle skipping through her French village in the opening scene of Beauty and the Beast. If only I had known that there was a beast in my fairytale, too. ------------ So dear friendly guy on the street, I'm sorry. It shouldn't be this way. I shouldn't be afraid to smile at you or say 'hello' back. Your friendliness shouldn't be met with pursed lips or blatant disregard. But you need to understand that sometimes, saying 'hello' is a danger for me. Sometimes, a smile costs me a little more than I'd like. I'm not a rude girl, and I'm not a spoilt tourist. I'm just trying to be safe in a world that makes women feel: a little weaker, a little meeker, and a little more afraid.
Will you help make it safer for me?