As a white woman alone in Namibia, I expected harassment would be part of my life. But that expectation didn’t make it any easier to experience.
If you are willing to look at another person’s behavior toward you as a reflection of the state of their relationship with themselves rather than a statement about your value as a person, then you will, over a period of time cease to react at all. – Yogi Bhajan
That period of time he’s referring to must be longer than a Peace Corps service, because I don’t feel any closer to letting the harassment wash over me. Every day in Namibia harassment takes a new form:
“I’m coming to visit you in your room”
“Man you are so beautiful, I want a white lady like you”
“You white people are so self important, you’re a terrible person“
“You want me, we are getting married”
The most common advice people give me is to respond with humor. This sounded like a good idea, until I realized I have a hard time finding the hilarity in being harassed because of my sex or skin color. I’m not going to pretend I think it’s funny to disrespect people you don’t know on the street. I’ve decided I’m being truest to myself when I tell them off. To this end I had a friend teach me, ‘/ha xu te, sora tetsge ha’, which means ‘leave me alone, you are disrespecting me’ in Damara.
The people shouting after you on the street are cowards, which is why walking in a group decreases the frequency of harassment. You might say that’s common knowledge, but I like to experience something for myself before I can believe it. I have now confirmed it’s true, because the worst harassment I’ve experienced has been while walking alone. To minimize my exposure I hide at the hospital as much as I can. Nevertheless, I have experienced more harassment here in the past year than in the all the other years of my life combined.
I’ve become better at avoiding situations where I’m likely to be harassed, but once in awhile someone slips through my defenses. I look forward to returning to the U.S. where I imagine, perhaps a bit romantically, that I can feel safe walking down the street again.