The view from here
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"I think to myself maybe they don’t speak English and are just curious about the foreigner who happened upon their fishing spot."
This is a somewhat unpleasant travel memory which is unusual for me but I wanted to share it in the spirit of authenticity and also to reach out and potentially find other women who may have had a similar experience.
Two years ago, I travelled with my partner to the beautiful island of Samoa – well technically two bigger islands, one that is considered the mainland with the capital city of Apia and the other which has the majority of resorts and guesthouses on its beautiful beaches. Here's what happened.
We arrive late, go through customs and walk through the tiny airport to collect our rental car, all quite a different experience on this small island. Soon we are on the road, looking through the palms in the dark of night and feeling the humidity. I cannot tell you how excited I feel. While most tropical islands are pretty much sand and ocean (always lovely but can get a bit samey), this island has so much to do and we are thrilled to have a lot of activities ahead of us - one of which is a major item on the bucket list.
Over the course of the week, we explore lava fields and water spout rocks on the wild ocean side of the island. We follow alongside sea turtles and point out stunning crustaceans while snorkelling. We dive into waterfall pools and lap around in the amazingly gorgeous To Sua Ocean Trench, a true dream come true and everything we imagined it would be.
With all of the major sites ticked off, we decide to stay local and do one of my most favourite laidback activities – hop along the rocks next to the coast, trying to spot sea life both in and outside of the water.
This coastline is right behind our guesthouse (or hut you might call it), us third in a row of about four huts on either side for about 50 m. It is a very small resort area, nice and quiet – secluded.
I am jumping from rock to rock in my running shoes, soaking up the sun and stopping occasionally to snap photos. Jason takes the swimming route and kicks along beside me in his snorkel gear, trying to spot any movement under the water. The further I walk along the coast, the thicker the trees get to the right of me – I am under the impression that we are completely by ourselves, in this moment of island paradise.
Jason paddles up further ahead now because we see something splash and he is able to swim out to it, so I carry on now alone with my thoughts, the rocks and forest on one side and the deep blue sea on the other.
When I look up, I see just ahead of me two teenaged Samoan boys, standing with fishing gear in their hands. Startled by their sudden presence, I fumble to say “Did you catch anything?”
They don’t really respond, and Jason calls out for me so they just look me up and down as I walk by them and then leave in the other direction. I think to myself maybe they don’t speak English and are just curious about the foreigner who happened upon their fishing spot.
Jason and I carry on, attempting to discover more exciting sea life. We see funny-looking fish and crabs and soon I am back in my little bubble of oceanside bliss.
On the way back now, I am way ahead of Jason as he is swimming against the current - and also busy with his head down, checking out the wonders below. I am getting quicker on the rocky edge.
I focus on each step and move along carefully, while also staring like a laser into the water for sea turtles.
Suddenly, I see the two boys again, standing directly in my path, a few feet away gawking at me. Although I feel uncomfortable and very aware now that I’m wearing only my swimsuit, I decide to just walk by quickly and be on my way.
One of the boys grabs at my chest and my crotch, and says “I like your poonan,” or something along those disgusting lines.
I shout, “Don’t touch me! What the hell do you think you’re doing!?” And they run off into the thick bushes.
I start walking faster, adrenaline pumping, trying to get away from there and look for Jason to hurry the hell up.
One of the boys returns to stare at me from the bushes and takes his penis out and plays with it.
I catch Jason’s attention and he starts to swim faster towards me, just as the boy takes off running again into the bushes. Jason is right next to me again, but now, there is no oceanside bliss. No more delightful, sun soaked serenity that I had just moments ago enjoyed so much.
I feel violated, and beyond angry. I want to find the boys’ mother(s) and scold and embarrass them for doing that to me.
I also feel powerless – there is no way I can find out where they are from or what to even do about it. And would anyone really care about a tourist being harassed by one of the locals? Do they value women’s rights at all? I honestly didn’t even want to have to think about it or deal with it.
So I decided to just sit with it.
While it could’ve been much worse obviously, it bothered me. It bothered me for the rest of the time I was there, on the way back, when I got home and now anytime I ever think about it.
I hate that I thought to myself ‘maybe I should’ve been wearing something conservative' while walking on a secluded coastline or ‘maybe I shouldn’t have smiled when I asked if they had caught anything’.
I never told anyone about it besides Jason (and I didn't even tell him until we were back at the resort) because there was nothing that could be done and it is one of those things that is just uncomfortable to talk about and I didn’t really see the point.
I am not traumatised by it by any stretch but it really pisses me off that simply by existing as a woman I have to constantly worry if some asshole is going to try to grab me or whip his fucking penis out in front of me and play with it.
Shit like that happens all the time, across different countries, in a million different ways. In fact, a story a friend of mine wrote called Penis Waggling and Other Woes actually inspired me to write about this in the first place because of her experiences with the world’s pervs.
Telling this story is not to freak you out. Living in fear is not my style and the last thing I would ever tell you to do is to shrink down to allow this bullshit to continue.
Collectively, we need to start asking more of the men who act like cave people and start chipping away at the cultural norms that let this behaviour continue – in any country.
Has this sort of thing happened to anyone else? If so, what did you do about it?
Meg is one of the co-creators of Travelher and lives and breathes travel. She currently works for an e-commerce travel company in New Zealand and often sells herself on cruises, motorhome trips and other exciting adventures. Meg misses her family back in Canada and wishes someone would invent the teleport already.
I am mortified by this story Meghan, I wish this had never happened to you. If I could erase this incident/memory from your mind, I would. I want to say though I am proud of you for sharing, it shows a lot of courage and unselfishness. Fellow TravelHers will benefit from such stories and appreciate your honesty. Sadly, things like this do happen. I'm sure there is not a culture that is immune to such behaviour. I encourage all women (and men) not to ignore the elephant in the room and face these fears head on and my best advice, drop the shame and the self-blame! Embrace the travel bug and be safe!
Thank you for the encouragement :) And I agree, we may not be able to change disgusting behavior right away but we can start by addressing the shame factor. xoxo
Wow, what a horrible thing to have happen to you. I'm so sorry that this dampened what sounds like pretty much the holiday from paradise. Where I lived in NYC, I experienced huge amounts of sexual harassment, in particular when I lived in East Harlem and Crown Heights. The scariest of which involved a man following me to my apartment (for the record, my friend dropped me off in her half HALF A BLOCK away, at 3:30 pm, wearing the clothes I wore to teach in- hardly anything revealing. I say this not because it should have granted me immunity, but to emphasize that what you wear really has no impact on terrible people like the kind of people who commit sexual violence) and this man started harassing me. I turned to say a loud but firm "no" and then things turned incredibly graphic. He followed behind me telling me exactly how he was going to rape me. I didn't know what to do - i was on a fairly residential street with no one else around - so when I got to my apartment, fumbling with the keys in an anxious mess, he shouted out "now I know where you live, bitch!" It messed me up for weeks. Honestly, I think it's something I'll never quite get over. I'm in Morocco now, where the harassment is actually quite benign compared to what I prepared for and experienced living in New York. But remembering that experience I had in NYC, as well as keeping in mind many female travelers' stories about traveling here, I find myself very anxious here and don't want to explore much. In my opinion, the thing that's the most violating about sexual harassment is how it stays with you. Also, I just want to state how insane it is that all women (myself included) conclude every story like that of harassment with "it could have been worse." It's true, but God, what a terrible truth. It breaks my hard.
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