We gathered stories of a couple: hetero, white, middle class. A passport that opens borders more than closes them. All markings that, such as gender, shapes the look and the individual process of traveling. In a year, each breath was taken for different feelings. Sad to notice the female breaths of fear were taken much more frequently.
In our first month on the road we spent ten days of heat and findings in Morroco. Like before, throughout the parks in Spain, or later, anywhere we’ve been, it was rather rare to split up. With rare exceptions, the walking together had less to do with fear, and a lot with sharing experiences and visions. However, on a sunny afternoon, I left alone in Marrakech to have a bath in a hammam. This day on the streets of the medina I understood clearly the difference between traveling alone and with someone else. The looks weren’t just curiosity about the foreign face. Despite so many cultural differences, it was like here, around the corners of Brazil. It doesn’t really matter how many clothes: the objective was to devour the meat, ignoring the tissues.
Social networks were invaded the last days by the open letter “Yesterday they killed me”, written by the paraguayan Guadalupe Acosta in memory, and protest, for the murder of Marina Menegazzo and María José Coni, two argentinians that traveled together in Equador. As noted by Guadalupe, instead of questioning the murder and the murderer, many wanted to know why they were traveling alone (read it, without male protection), which clother they were wearing, if they were on drugs… It remains a question: if they were two guys, would anyone wonder if they had shorts or pants? If they were loose or tight? If it was day or night? The truth is that being a woman on the road seems simpler if accompanied. Here is the world: it is designed to respect the male authority. But it isn’t on the road only. It is in our everyday roads. And respect, worth to remind it, opposing another common sense, has nothing absolute: or someone forgot, to keep it as one example only, the couple of foreigners attacked in a van in Copacabana, Rio de Janeiro, in 2013? The american girl was raped by a group and the boyfriend handcuffed and attacked with an iron bar. The case generated a huge repercussion and revolt not only for the aggression to the couple but more specificaly to the girl. Many remembered that many other women, specially in the outskirts of the city, are attacked and raped everyday without the same attention of the media. Also there were a lot of questioning about the authorities, who instead of improving the public transportation system and make it safed for women, banned the vans in the South Zone of the city, measure that affected the lives of over 100K people..
In Iran of the mandatory hijabs, hidden hips and defying women that roam around with strong lipstick and flying hair, at every corner we were asked about marriage. Yes, married, we said, even not really being so. It wasn’t the only
question, of course. Not even the only one who tried to understand the place of a woman traveling the world: haven’t you got kids? If you are together for 10 years, why not? No, they weren’t iranian questions. They were universal questions, even if not announced.
Still in Iran, I remember well our friend Sarita, a brazilian backpacker in a solo trip, being advised by another friend, iranian, to avoid couchsurfing around there with men. In such a closed culture, it’s hard to understand where they see the limits of a foreign woman. And isn’t it the same here, in this liberal country? Another backpacker, italian, commented on sexual rights, despite her request being, only, for a couch. It is worth a future post for the sad perception – despite the great possibility of finding a companion for any activity – that there is no shortage of cities in which the only available people to offer a couch are those exclusively for single women, who fit what was developed in some moment of history, as the standards of beauty.
Security is an important matter, yes, in the universe of female backpackers. Seems like they have to be more careful. But it isn’t just a matter for them Walking ahead and looking behind is a significant part of women’s lives, especially those below the line of the Equator. Statistics tells the risk they are under. And the feelings walk together. And inside. It is a matter of gender. In hostels we always saw rooms dedicated to women. Just for men? I haven’t seen yet. Wish for some privacy is just part of the explanation. Either there were women alone or mixed. Why is it? Personally my favourite bed in hostels or trains – it didn’t matter if in Russia, China or India – were the ones above. Actually, I do fear the small ladders. But feared much more my deep sleeping. I thought: better like this. Would the boys have the same worries? The same motivation?
It was hot and I still had pants. Until this day I ask myself what was I doing in a bikini on a Sunday afternoon on a beach in Cambodia. The cameras popped up to photograph this strange and rebel being, that of course, gave up the sun in 10 minutes. It was better to dress up. A part of me understands there is no reason to face local culture. This culture we try to scratch with the nails and very few times seems to be able to understand while traveling. Altough, another part of me is is always alert: should I cover myself? Nothins this is restricted only to the trip: the subterranean passages of Brasilia scare me as much as some corners in Delhi. With or without a male companion. It isn’t fair that a heart speeds up more for fear than for the effort of cycling up a hill. Around here, there is the mix of fear and anger when the popcorn seller says that I’m “hot” while I cycle to work. The difference for many, is to understand every damn word we are said.
We live in a country listed as the five more
dangerous for women traveling. Before leaving South America, actually, it was impossible for me to understand why the european girls I had been meeting referred to my continent as such a harmful place.
Guess when the unsafety follows us since always, it becomes a shadow that we can’t consciously notice anymore. In a small city in Germany, you are the only one looking over the shoulders. And innocent questions come around: why you do it? Katarina, a serbian friend, that stayed six months in Belo Horizonte, after a quick passage by our house, told us, with fear in her eyes, about the unsafety of being a foreigner here. Everyday you are screamed at with words you can’t quite understand but that fills you with fear. And they make you change the shortest for the most comfortable route, told us over a coffee, already back at Belgrade. Being a woman in Brazil is like being a woman in the majority of places around the world. It is to understand each bits and pieces of violence and decide on the ways. None of it makes me wish to stop. I don’t think it should be the case for any other person, despite the facts.
How many times was I asked how dangerous was it here or there? Countless. And I wonder: isn’t it dangerous everyday, anywhere? Inequality is danger. Chauvinism is danger. A lot. But if in all the world the feminist march, we shall travel. Together and accompanied. Until we are all free.