Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It Adds Up

Today, while I was walking to an event for our organization, a car followed me (almost) the entire way.  As I walked, he pulled up beside me, parked and began to yell to me.  As I continued to walk, he continued his wooing stalking, pulling up, parking behind cars and yelling as I walked along the sidewalk.  When the sidewalk ended, I began to walk into a store parking lot, but he pulled in front of the sidewalk, blocking my way.  I walked behind his car, remained stone faced and retained my pace.  He backed out of the parking lot and went to the other side, trying the same tactic, blocking the sidewalk on the other side.  Again, I walked around his car and shattered his windshield with the baseball bat I carry continued onward to my destination.  Eventually, he moved along, most likely to stalk some other unsuspecting gazelle.

The story I'm sharing with you is not uncommon, not for me, nor my fellow female AZPCVs.  It is my greatest cause of stress in Azerbaijan.  I remember in my first months at site how scary I found these events.  Now I just find them common place, irritating and anger inducing (although the general anxiety that comes with people stalking you is still there).

With warmer weather now finding its way to Azerbaijan, the incidences of harassment are (much) higher.  Recently, while I was walking with one of my students (and friend), a car pulled up in front of us, blocking the sidewalk.  The driver then began calling out to me in Russian.  We ignored them and walked on.  I've had cars follow me all the way from work to my apartment block.  I've had boys follow and speak rudely behind me while I walked with a group of girls.  Two weeks ago I was walking with my American friend when a man came up and put his arm around her.  She looked stricken, I was just angry.  I physically removed his hand off her and told him to leave NOW.  He seemed amused, took his hand off her, but then continued to follow us. We crossed the street, he crossed the street.  We turned right, he turned right.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  I think I could have, for the first time in my life, hit someone.

I have had boys follow me for so long, that in order to get rid of them I had to fake a phone call to my dear (male) friend and counterpart (this works incredibly well for walker-stalkers, not as well for guys in cars).  I always have the option of actually calling him, but I try to only call him in extreme cases.

The ongoing harassment is exhausting and I can feel the anger accumulating. It's a low, but steady stream of annoyance that's building to become something bigger.  I'm not an angry person.  Really.  I get irritated with people, but I voice my dismay/annoyance and then I'm over it; a flash in the pan really. I've never "seen red" and am sometimes taken aback by extreme anger.  This is a whole different experience.  There's just no real solution.  I know I will not see the end of this behavior before my service is complete.  One of my fellow sitemates had a male student tell her he must always walk with her.  Yes, the solution is to always have a male with me.  You know, just give up a little more of my freedom and independence and always have a dude with me.  That seems like the most awful idea ever viable.

The thing is, the best reaction to these types of events (as long as they aren't severe or physically threatening) is to ignore them.  Any response is taken as a sort of indicator that you're interested,.  But it adds up.  The continued stress, annoyance, anger, irritation, it doesn't leave right away and the next day when you're still reeling from the day before, you leave your house and again experience this type of interaction.  And the day after that. The same.  And the day after. The same. Rinse. Repeat.  And bit by bit, it weighs on you.  I can sense it some days when I'm short with someone for no reason and it's typically after an exchange of this nature.  The anger can be misdirected.  I keep it pretty well in check, but sometimes it seeps out and creeps into a place it doesn't belong.

Don't get me wrong.  I do things to alleviate stress. I run. I write. I color.  I take a day for myself and hide out in my apartment to read a book and drink coffee, but there are some months where there isn't enough time to unwind and those seem to be when instances of harassment are rampant.  It adds up.

I love my service and I have great work, students and friends.  By far my service is a positive one.  If you're looking for me, I can usually be found making a lame joke with a dumb grin on my face, but I have bad days here too.  And when I don't have the time to take a minute, it's difficult get my head health back to where it needs to be (and it can get a little nutty inside this messy mind of mine).

I suppose the key, if there is one, is awareness.  I'm aware of how I'm feeling and its causes and although I have virtually no control over these interactions, it's important to be aware of how I'm feeling and why I'm feeling that way.  When I'm feeling just a little nutty (like today for example), I can try to take a moment to pause and figure out where my head is at.

Peace Corps was bound to present me with challenges and this is, by far, my greatest.

1 comment:

  1. Somewhere into my service I realized I was much angrier than I was when I arrived. Seeing injustices and being victimized daily really does add up. I wish I had something more comforting to say, but it really never goes away. At least you can hang onto the fact that the good outweighs the bad, and the people who deserve your attention receive it. And the people who don't, well, their loss.