On the Seriousness of Tourists

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Rice cooked in the bamboo.  The smoke kept the bees away.  So she hovered by the smoke and waited to eat.

She was leaving the rice farm the next day.  She had been the eldest person working the farm by a decade.  She was both proud of that fact, and lonely that she had to do it alone.  She drank the water from the ceramic urn that the farmer’s wife said came from the mountain.  She only saw a tub of water and made sure to pick the bugs out before she drank.  She loved the chili paste.  She was partial to her family’s recipe—the family with whom she lived.  She didn’t know how she would live without rice three times a day and the smell of chili heat on her skin.  She didn’t mind the beetles who lived with her in the hut.  She liked her mat better than her mattress at home.

She didn’t like the man who asked her to marry him.  A man from a nearby village who helped at the farm.  He mimed putting a ring on her finger; he mimed rocking a baby; he mimed going away to live in his village.  At first, it had been charming.  She mimed that she was too old.  She mimed that she was in a relationship.  But she had no ring, and he did not believe her.  She mimed, no.  No.

He was persistent: taking over her work at the farm; sitting next to her at dinner; insisting that she sit behind him on his motorbike on the way to the furthest rice field.  John, the farmer, waved him away, but that did not stop him.   She began putting her backpack against the door of her hut—there were no locks and just in case.  She began to look through the slats of the bamboo wall when she peed to make sure no one was watching.  She stopped smiling. The man spelled baby in English in the dirt.  She crossed it out.  One night he came to her and showed her an official document that mapped a plot of land.  She supposed it was a deed.  He gestured to her again.  Marry me.  She saw his loneliness, but she was tired and angry and ached for home.

She was grateful John hadn’t let him come on the hike that day.  The man had insisted, but John took him aside.  She watched their arms wave at one another.  The man left on the motorbike and she would not see him again.

John prepared the rice and smiled at her.  Had he known she was bothered?   She would never know.  All she knew is she felt safe, and for that she was grateful.  Yet it didn’t take that sadness away:  Half way around the world from her home and decidedly middle-aged, she still had to be wary of men and grateful at times for their intervention.

On the Hopefulness of Protest

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He stood under the blue sky. The forecast said rain. The sun warmed his face even as the crisp air forced him to shiver. He didn’t care. Here he was on January 21, 2017. It was going to make history and his wife had the flu.

He had planned to watch the game.

Fight ensued. So here he was. His young daughter wearing a Future President tee-shirt over a thermal shirt. Already as stubborn as her mother, she refused to wear a jacket.

He swore he thought it had already been done. Equal rights. That was the past, like the Vietnam era. He swore he studied it in a college class, a class, he had to admit, he took to fuck the smartest women. Crass and sexist, his wife would scold, but then she’d crack, “I was one of those women.” That was one of the reasons he loved her. And the reason she loved him? He evolved.

So here he was at the edge of a swell of human protest. He waited for violence. He’d seen the movies. He smiled at the police officers. They smiled back. He clung to the curb and read the signs. They didn’t have one. His daughter pointed at the colors.

Equal Pay.

Hands off My Uterus.

Love is for Everyone.

Women are People.

Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

He laughed at some of them. The vulgarity of them didn’t matter; those words she couldn’t yet read.

If I Wanted the Government Involved in My Vagina, I’d Fuck a Senator.

Just Because You Have a Dick Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be One.

If Men Got Pregnant, Abortions Would Be Available at ATMs.

His daughter would not have to roll her eyes in just such a way that would anger no one when a man much too old for her bought her a drink. She could just say no. She would never have to feign docility.

His daughter would not have to decide on her own unique approach to the man in the street who said, “Nice, eyes. Yeah, baby, nice tits.” She wouldn’t need to decide: ignore, frown, engage, or smile.

His daughter would never sit in an interview and wonder if the person interviewing her was staring at her in the wrong places. His daughter would never feel a stab of uncertainty in her intellect and ability when offered the job.

His daughter would never wordsmith a polite answer when a well-meaning relative said, “just wait until you marry a man and have kids of your own.” As his wife told it, she’d be talked to about her impending motherhood since she was 17. He didn’t want that pressure on his daughter.

He didn’t want her to have to rise above the rumors and innuendo of her being too smart or too beautiful or too loud or too assertive or to anything at all.

He didn’t want to be in a crowd of almost a million people, all of them greeting each other in manners that suggested a secret handshake. He didn’t want his daughter to have a knowing nod or a handshake he wouldn’t understand.

He just wanted his daughter to look up and feel the sun’s warmth on her face. He just wanted his daughter to be.

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On the Pretentiousness of Travelers #6

Look at me! IMG_0909.jpg No makeup. No fishface kiss at the camera.  You won’t see this picture on instagram.

Do you see my pants?  I think they’re made of burlap!  If Mom saw me, she’d tell me I looked like Gravel Gertie.  Yeah, I don’t know who that is either.

I ripped my only pair of pants jumping off a milk truck.  A milk truck!  Actually, that’s a whole other story.  I bought these pants at a market—like a Target, but outside.  Pots and pans, and pants and shirts, and sandwiches—little buns with slices of pig’s head.  No, really, they were yummy.

My teeth have a cruddy film on them because I just can’t brush them well in the jungle. And do I care?  No.  I’m in the jungle!  I’m sleeping in a hut on stilts—with no electricity, no plumbing, and an outhouse.  I feel like Robinson Crusoe!

I do have four mosquito bites on my ass.  They itch so bad.  I need to remember to DEET my butt so when I pee in the outhouse at night, I don’t get malaria. Now that would suck.

You know what’s most amazing?  I haven’t looked in the mirror in days, days.  Days!  And it’s interesting, I haven’t, not once, compared myself to another person, noticed my short legs or my squinty eyes or my big calves or even felt fat.  Actually, to tell you the truth, I haven’t once felt bad about myself.  Actually, really, I haven’t thought much about myself at all.

Why do you think that is?

On the Seriousness of Tourists #14

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I don’t want Ray to think I’m a downer.  He already says I’m too judgmental.  Really, how long do I have to hang out here before I can leave?

I know this is epic.  I mean really, it’s The Rolling Stones in Havana.  But they’re old, right?  Do I really have to care?  The stage is still a long way away.  It’s gonna be like watching my grandpa sing karaoke in a mosh pit of sweaty people.

Ray says it will be awesome.  Yeah, I’m sure —for him, right?  He says the crowd and vibe are awesome.  He says Mick Jagger is awesome.  He says rock n roll is awesome.

I say he needs a better vocabulary, right?  What man says awesome that many times in a row?  He flips me off in that flirtatious way of his—twisting his middle finger in circles until he kisses it and presses it to my lips.

Doesn’t make me want to stay.   Makes me rethink what I see in him at all.

He’s playing air guitar with his friends now.   He’s pretending to be that Keith Richards, right?  He doesn’t notice me judging him.  He doesn’t notice people taking pictures of him.  He is just jamming out to the music that isn’t yet playing.

And then I see.  It takes me a moment to let go of the humidity, to let go of the hordes of people walking past me, to let go and be.

He is joy.  I keep watching.  I feel lighter.  I soon forget the heat, the crowd.  I feel excited.  I begin to dance to my own rhythm, music yet to come.  After all, it’s epic, right?

On the Seriousness of Tourists #13

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I don’t remember the itchiness of the canvas chair or the ants that crawled up my leg.  I don’t remember it being too chilly in the shade and too hot in the sun.

What I remember are the blades of grass between my toes.  They tickled.  I remember the pealing bells of an ice cream cart.  I remember peace.  He squeezed my hand and pushed the hair from my eyes.  He kissed me goodbye before going to buy me a cone.

Did he know then it would be the last cone he’d ever hand me?

I will never know.

On the Seriousness of Tourists #10

IMG_0655.jpgOne day someone will love me like that.

Can you believe some tourist with a Prada purse is complaining about them taking up all the space on this narrow path to the castle?  Is she kidding?  To see that love.  So free.  So exuberant.  It’s better than another touristy trdelnik sweet shop.

One day someone will tilt me back in a poof of a dress and kiss me in front of a throng of tourists.  Well, maybe I won’t get the poofy dress or the throng of tourists, but the tilt and the kiss?  Yes I do.  I do want that.

Just look at that stocking, the lace placed just so.  The tourist with the Prada purse is telling her friend it’s tacky.  I would love for my leg to look that graceful in lace all the while being tipped upside down.  And to be so loved I could wear tennies.

To be loved like that.

On the Seriousness of Tourists #9

Kiss me!

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I don’t care that someone’s fanny pack is jamming into my ass; I don’t care you insisted on those sunglasses that remind me of that douchebag I dated in college; I don’t care that we are in this throng of annoyed tourists watching a clock and waiting for The Walk of the Apostles.  I don’t care.  Kiss me. I want to have this picture to remind me of us the next time we bicker about who left the coffeepot on.

You are carrying my sun block, my water bottle, my two, no three, guidebooks that we both know all say the same thing.  Yet you don’t complain, and if you do, you make fun of me with that lovelook in your eyes.  This morning,  you let me eat half your croissant and then you got me another filled with chocolate.  When I said I was fat, you told me I wasn’t—even though I am.  You let me finish your coffee.  You drank the last of the water only because you know I hate the water left at the bottom of a bottle.  And you tell me I’m not neurotic!  You hugged me and cracked my back in that museum.  I really needed my back cracked, and I didn’t even have to ask.  You didn’t care who saw.  Now please, kiss me!  You are my love.