Sunday, 15 May 2016
Teacher: Explain the word 'harassment', please
Student: I once dated a girl. Her-ass-meant a lot to me.
I have had a fascinating couple of days. Which made me think about harassment. And before I continue, I want to clarify. I am not talking about any sort of serious sexual harassment. I am talking about the kind that we girls ( ladies?) all experience at some point in our lives. You know, getting hit on, getting chatted up by strangers, that kind of harassment.
You have got to trust me when I tell you that, growing up in Baku, in my days, we girls had to learn about harassment pretty early, and fast.
There were some basic rules. Don't smile at strangers or they follow you home. Don't let any man stand behind you in a over-crowded bus. Ideally, don't take an over-crowded bus at all. Don't look at any strangers, don't make eye contact. Don't enter elevators with strangers. Learn how to say NO! many, many many times, over and over again. Azeri men are relentless, always horny and never give up hope. Even when they look like apes. Especially, if they look like apes, I guess.
It was everywhere, and I meant everywhere. Being a young girl in Baku was stressful. Not only did you get harassed on the street, in a bus or by a taxi driver, I once had to change a dentist. Which was a shame, as finding a good dentist in Baku those days was hugely problematic, and this guy was great. Until he decided to put his hand on my thigh and ask seductively how my day was. To which I had to get up and leave, saying 'well, it was pretty good until now, asshole'.
Sadly, my maths teacher in high school- isn't life cruel and unfair??- never made any attempt to harass me. And oh, how I would have loved him to! Now, many years later, he found me on Facebook and sent a few flirty messages. Dude! I wanted to tell him….That train left your station about 20 years ago. Isn't it ironic, as Alanis Morissette would point out.
Generally, I always managed OK and only had two properly unpleasant moments when I had to hit someone to send the message. Once with an elbow in the stomach, and once with…hmm…a badminton racket. Which I strongly recommend, by the way, as a weapon. It works really well swung backwards, with the wooden edge across the face, should someone approach you and try to grab you from behind, uninvited.
Now, in my respectable middle age, I look back at what I thought was a peaceful childhood and teenage years and think wait a moment! That was kind of nasty, really.
So, as you probably imagine, I am well equipped by my what I thought was quite a sheltered growing up experience, to handle any basic form or harassment. And, isn't it ironic, how different your reaction is to people hitting on you when you are hmm…middle aged, as opposed to very young?
I used to be terrified when a stranger approached me and tried to chat me up! Terrified. Repulsed. Disturbed at the very least. Nowadays, I just find it hilarious.
At a big drunken expats party last weekend, a stranger tried to approach me. OMG, he said, are you real? You are too beautiful to be real! See what I mean? Hilarious.
And today, I had a funny episode with three local youths in an elevator. And I thought, oh wow. How cute are you? Babies. Just babies.
At first, I did not even realize they were addressing me, as one of them said "Hello! How are you?" But, nobody was actually looking at me. All three of them were staring intently into their mobile phones. I glanced up and thought I must have misheard and looked into my own phone-I had to look somewhere, too. It was a very small space with three young guys in thobes and myself.
'Excuse me?...' the other one suddenly said as his friends giggled nervously. 'Are you a student? '
Ha, I thought. That filler was money well spent after all.
We were in a lift of a medical centre, so perhaps he thought I was a student, which by the look of them, they might have been themselves. 'No', I said, laughing.
-Are you a teacher then?
-No, I said, getting bored.
-What are you???
What am I? I chose the easiest answer. 'I am a wife.' I said.
'You married?!!!!'! The braver youth slapped himself on the thighs in comic disappointment and addressed the skies: 'Ya Allah!'
And we all laughed, as the doors of the elevator opened and we walked out, in different directions.
Bless them, I thought. How different was that, compared to my young days when Azeri guys would try to make a pass at me. Is it simply my older age that makes me see these attempts as funny and not threatening or particularly offensive? Do these local guys, with their polite, funny, clumsy attempts at flirting appear so innocent to me because I am older and wiser now? Or are they indeed just much more polite than Azeri youths used to be in my days?
I guess, I will never know.