Disclaimer/Trigger Warning: This post contains details about unwanted sexual advances. Read Part I here.
After Sicily, I went to the English countryside for an intended two weeks in a work exchange. A retired, but part-time, lecturer of Greek and Latin in his 60s was moving house and needed help packing and cleaning and cooking. There would, in a day or two, also be a male student from Lithuania and a Brazilian couple joining the communal house, and I found the position through workaway.info, a site one must pay for that I used three years ago with no problem.
On one hand, I have to use sites like this from time to time due to financial reasons. On the other hand, after traveling alone for awhile, I long for the communal exchange. I enjoy helping someone learn a language, cook for their family, organize their clutter because of the conversations along the way. They have a house and extra food. I have the time (my two classes I teach at university online do not take much) to help. If the people involved are mindful and truly grateful for community and shared work and resources, it can be a sacred return to a way of life where people can practice sharing, non-greed, and carrying each other’s burdens. We practice living with strangers, with all the challenges that presents, instead of isolating ourselves in presumed comfort.
One morning during the 7:30 a.m. setting of porridge breakfast and tea (one of my offerings), my host took my hands in his and told me that he had returned from his classes in London the night before disappointed that I had not waited up for him. He explained with a smile that he had intended, should I had been up, in his loneliness and the rejection of his current on-off relationship with a woman his age, to invite me to sleep with him.
Instantly my sacred space and ideal for a communal home was cracked. I tried to not let it bother me. He accepted when I told him that would never happen. Except the next morning, he came down the stairs in tears, saying he felt depressed, gesturing he needed a hug. Then he untied his bathrobe and asked if I would rub him in the area of his lower pelvis. (I said “no” and he closed back up). Perhaps he was too mentally unstable to realize how he might be making me feel unsafe, but I wrote a letter telling him I hoped he would be well, but I had to leave, and I packed my suitcases and left on the afternoon train when he napped.
Some girls in my situation because they might not have money for a train ticket out of there like I did. They may be younger or more vulnerable or feel they owe their host something or cannot say “no” because of the repercussions.
Do men have more freedom to travel than women? More women than ever are deciding to travel solo to break ties with unhealthy relationships, to take spiritual pilgrimage, to learn about other cultures and to heal their habitual responses to difference. I have not traveled to many places, but even in the countries I have been in (Iceland, Spain, Germany, Italy, England, and Ireland), I have found myself modifying assumptions and stereotypes, which I feel leads to a more compassionate and realistic self that I can share with my university students.
I do not think having more money completely mitigates fear. When I paid for a single-stay hostel room for a night in London, I was still nervous about the older man who was in charge of night check-in and seemed too friendly, asking for my room number when I needed to know the time for check out, and asking me questions about what I did for a living and then for my number and email address in case he could help me find something. He was just a little too interested, a little too friendly. I still put my suitcases up against the door of my room.
I tend to start from a place of trust and goodwill toward men, but after a succession of experiences with unsolicited advances, I find myself needing to pause my traveling solo as a woman and seek home with more calming, cautious and nurturing energies. I have a home with someone I trust in Ireland, and so I am back here, perhaps for good, with no plans to travel on my own for awhile. I don’t feel like hiding away though, not completely. In fact, I have a strong determination that makes me want to stop asking for permission all the time, to be kind and observant of those who extend goodwill toward myself, and just keep moving, except from this more stable ground.
Breathing out in tonglen, the meditative sending and taking that connects us with others as we share pleasure and connect with the pain of others, I’m going to continue to move in the world and imagine whatever comes from my motivation as also benefiting other women hurt and broken and harassed by male entitlement and aggression. If they are weak, I want them strong. And to hold and embrace them to protect their beautiful and terrifying feminine energies. I believe in positive energies and frequencies. This will help me heal myself so I can heal others in hopefully increasingly practical and physical ways as I move again into the return of being in the world.
But I have to also mention, as a part of my healing, I have also written poems about these experiences because that was my strategy for immediate healing. When I have no other healing bodies around me to console, when there’s no ground beneath, when it is a flight between myself and a home, when I feel like breaking down, taking a hot shower to get rid of the grime, a poem helps. There is no room for it here, but know it was angry and real.
Lache S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She teaches online composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. Currently, she is working on a chapbook of poetry and traveling through Iceland, Spain, and Ireland.