When I woke up to my first morning in Jerusalem last Friday, the first place I went was Jaffa Gate. The Sandalman’s free city tour was advertised as meeting there. Lucky for me, as it was the only gate that I fully remembered how to travel to from the German Colony. Without getting lost even once (which is truly a miracle), I proudly stepped into the crowd at Jaffa Gate that was queuing up for the tours. I felt empowered and confident, independent and good.
Enter anonymous yucky man.
A man approached me and asked if he could take a photo of us together. I’m Canadian. Polite. Friendly. Resistant to conflict (except in intellectual arguments). Also, I wasn’t thinking. (Katie & Sophie, if you’re reading this, see this as a cautionary tale!). I deviated from two of my grandmother’s regular instructions: 1) Don’t talk to strangers; 2) Keep your knees together and 3) Keep my shaking finger in front of you. It is to her and my benefit that she did not live long enough to hear me tell this story, because I responded, “Okay”. Did I want to take a photo with this man? I did not. But, I let my discomfort of offending him override my discomfort with doing it. So, we took the photo. For the next 10 minutes (felt like hours…) while I waited for the tour organizers to register everyone, he badgered me with questions. Could he have my phone number? I said no. Could he come back to my apartment with me later? I said no. Could I look him in the eye? I did for a moment and then said no. I walked away. He followed me. Thankfully, we were divided into tours and he backed away. I turned and saw that he was sitting on a bench, staring at me. I made every effort not to look, but kept feeling compelled to check. Every time I did, there he was, staring at me. When we left from Jaffa Gate to start the tour, he joined us. He walked beside me and told me that he had missed me already. That I was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. I told him that he was causing me a lot of discomfort and that I would like him to leave me alone. After a few parting words he left.
But, he didn’t really leave me. I looked over my shoulder all afternoon. Several hours later, when I was walking back from my apartment, I kept looking for him. Scared that he was following me. That night, as I was closing my eyes to go to sleep, I had the paranoid sense that he was outside my window watching me. That feeling I had enjoyed of liberated independence. Of being a capable, empowered traveller had dissipated. It didn’t leave me completely, but there was a large wound that I was having trouble healing. I felt stupid for talking to him. For being friendly and polite. I felt angry with him for being so aggressive and invasive.
I didn’t think about him (a lot) for the rest of the weekend. But today, as I prepared to head to Jaffa Gate for the Holy City tour I worried that I was going to see him. I didn’t wear the dress I had worn on Friday, so I would look different. I wore my hair up instead of down (really a good choice, given the heat). I hoped I wouldn’t see him. Happily, I didn’t see him all day. But he has left his impression on me. I will turn this impression into something strong and wise, because I refuse to let him have any more negative power over me. I pledge to have this whole experience be something positive and good. But I am still aware of the oppression. A woman travelling alone is vulnerable in a way that a man is not. I think a woman like me who defaults to friendly and open is vulnerable to predators like this. I don’t want to be anything different than what I am. But I will be more careful. I will be wiser. And I won’t give this man power any more than he already has had. But I have learned (not for the first time, maybe not for the last time) how easy it is to give our power away. Thankfully, I have also learned how easy it is to take it back.