Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

A Script of Petty Arguments

Scene 1

In the VOTO internet cafe, which is packed full of people.

Man: Hey white lady.

Me: [Silently types at computer]

Man: Hey china girl.

People working on the surrounding computers glance at us.

Me: Stop talking to me like that.  It’s rude.

Man: What?

Me: I would not say to you “Hey black man.”  No, because it’s rude.  So stop talking to me like that.

People on the surrounding computers start laughing.  Man looks sheepish and goes back to his work.

Scene 2

In the bathroom at nightclub. Two men lean against the walls while I wash my hands.

Man to his friend: That’s pretty, don’t you think?  Really nice.

Me: Don’t talk about me like I can’t hear you.

Man: What?

Me: Don’t talk about me like I can’t hear you when I’m right here.  It’s demeaning.

Man: You’re pretty.

Me: I don’t care.

Man: Let’s go inside and dance.

Me: No.

Scene 3

With a friend while buying fruit from a woman in the market.

Nearby man to my friend: Hey white lady, are you married.

My shy friend: [Pause] Yes.

Man to me: Are you?

Me: Yes.

Man: I want to marry a white woman.

Me: No one will marry you if you only want her for her skin colour.  That’s very shallow.

Man gets mad and huffs off.  Returns 30 seconds later while we’re still waiting for our change.

Man: [indignant] I don’t believe you’re married.  You’re only small girls.  You’re liars.

Me: Good thing you figured that out.  You don’t want to be friends with liars.

Man: You’re lying.  You just don’t want to be MY friend.  Why are you lying?

We walk away with our cut up papaya while he angrily yells after us.

Scene 4

Walking through the bus station.  A man comes up behind me and wraps his arm around my waist.

Man: Hey salaminga.  I want to talk to you.

I jump to the side and angrily turn to face him.

Me: Don’t touch me.

Man: Hey, I just want to talk.

I walk away.  He’s not worth my time or disgust.

Script Analysis

For every unpleasant interaction I have with stranger, there are at least 50 good ones.  Regardless, sometimes I want to scream, “Stop being such a stereotype! Have some fucking decency and respect.”

The thing that really bothers me is the constant harassment.  In Joburg, it was bad in Hillbrow (where I worked) but I didn’t have to put up with the comments in the rest of the city.  Back home, I know that by clubbing I’m putting myself in a situation where I’m more likely to be harassed and accept it.  It isn’t ok – women should be able to do anything and go everywhere – but I put up with it without complaint.

Here, though, it’s wearing me down.  I miss the days of anonymity.

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