Here’s something I hate about city life: street harassment. In fact, hate is really not a strong enough word to describe my feelings about getting whistled at or called out to or honked at repeatedly or just stared at on the street daily (I especially detest encountering a line of cars at a stoplight, every driver pointedly staring at me as I walk past*), not to mention being persistently hassled and propositioned as I walk through the ferias (markets) by men of all ages, and I want to shout at every one of them to show some respect and leave me alone (or another two words OU would probably rather not see here).

*I spent a bit of time just now looking for synonyms for ‘stare,’ both because I used it in two successive phrases (for shame!) and because it’s not quite correct, but can’t find one. It’s hard to adequately describe what exactly these men who watch me from their cars (in particular) are doing: it’s not gaping, or eyeing, ogling, gawking, peering, or even “checking out” — it’s this strangely almost blank gaze, completely unapologetic, as if I’m not an actual person walking past on her way to school, but some mirage there for their momentary viewing pleasure. But at the same time, their stares are so concentrated, so intentional, and so entitled that it’s hard to say that they’re not cognizant of the fact that I must be feeling something (hint: it’s objectification and vulnerability with a healthy side of rage) about this unsolicited and unwanted attention.

All that said, it’s really important to point out that I have (almost) never felt physically threatened here, especially during the daylight on my usual route to school, and so on. And I know that street harassment is generally a problem in cities everywhere.

Also, harassment of the complimentary variety generally doesn’t bother me, but makes me smile (albeit in embarassment), like the guy on the street who called out to offer the galletas he was eating to my friend and me as we walked past, or even the men who walk over to me in the grocery store to whisper, “Qué hermosa eres” (and nothing else). Which is, I guess, to say that the ones who make the effort to verbalize their thoughts about my presence in a positive, non-threatening, almost respectful way.

As a direct result, headphones have become my first line of defense against a lot of this harassment, especially when I’m out on my own walking along Matucana to and from the university or shopping, and it bothers me a lot. I don’t want to disconnect from what’s going on on the street and duck my head and hurry away from anyone who looks at me — but the only people I look at, much less make eye contact with anymore on the street are women and little kids. And I will never get used to it, never just chalk it up to “culture,” and never be okay with it. So you tell me, who’s right here?

I was talking to a friend at home about the above entry earlier, and told her that I couldn’t post it until I came up with something positive to balance it out. So here goes:

I spent a good portion of last week agonizing over worries that I’m not where I want to be (in almost every respect) and not fully maximizing the opportunities at hand: Where should I go on feriado in a few weeks? (And why did I waste so much time before school started?) Should I have taken different courses this semester? Why am I not already more involved on campus? Should I move out of my residencia to a house where I can cook in peace? Wouldn’t I really rather be in Buenos Aires? but I’ve finally snapped out of all that a bit.

My neighborhood is beautiful. It’s easy to miss (or mistake); Barrio Yungay is in one of the poorer areas of the city, full of terremoto-damaged and abandoned houses, graffiti, litter, and a general grunginess that you’d never see east of (“más arriba de“) the Baquedano metro station. But these old houses have charm and dignity, too, the streets are lively (especially on market days) and the way the light hits the houses and the trees in fall colors at almost any hour of the day is just gorgeous. Walking to and from school, taking side streets to avoid the noise and harassment (and for a better view!), is one of my favorite parts of my day.

I went to a Banda Conmoción concert Saturday night on a whim — I asked everyone else going, “Qué tipo de música es?” and no one could give me a good answer, or even an answer at all. Instead, I got lots of futile hand motions, and, “Well, you know, it’s a mix of, it’s just really good! Come with us!” and I’m so glad I did. I couldn’t tell you what kind of music it is either, except that it involves about twenty performers, including several trumpets, saxes, clarinets, drums, trombones and a sousaphone (as well as a dancer and a man who leapt around the stage in a demon costume), seems to borrow some from Chilean folkloric music (cumbia?), has super-catchy lyrics, and can keep a crowd of several hundred dancing (and jumping and occasionally crashing into each other) until five in the morning. In other words, it was great fun, and was really a step outside the norm for me.

One thing I learned quickly upon arrival is that probably the biggest part of any travel experience is the people you meet along the way, and I’ve had the privilege already of meeting some great friends from all over the world. I don’t want to wax poetic for too long here, except to say that I’ve found some of the most welcoming, generous, kind people here (at my residence and the university) that I’ve ever met, and it’s really made my experience so far.

When I arrive back at the Quinta Normal metro station, whether from a weekend trip out of the city or even just a long day across town, I’ve started to think, “Home again at last.” And that’s about as much as I can ask for for these few months, really.

In other news, I’m going (I’m almost positive) to the south this week to help build houses with USACH! Updates to come!


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