I’ve never felt more disrespected than here in Havana.
Catcalls I got used to in Mexico, but -and I was warned about this- it’s another level entirely here. I feel like an animal with all the smacking noises the men make at me. This morning, even an old woman stopped walking and looked at me, yelling ‘eyy, guapa!’ with a wide-eyed grin. But obviously it’s mostly men, and it’s all the time. I was thinking about the “Ten Hours in NYC as a Woman” video, and I think you’d only need ten minutes here in Havana to reach that level.
I just got to Havana a few days ago and am trying to get back into running. I haven’t been doing much exercise lately, and by lately I mean the last few years, but, coming to this new country not knowing anyone or being able to talk to any friends… I have all this time on my hands, no real desire to just walk around and sightsee, and nobody to go out with. So exercise it is, at least starting at 6:15pm when the heat becomes tolerable.
So tonight I went running and was getting smooched at, and what came to mind was the idea of self. Because its been a recurring theme lately. I’m on this self discovery trip, and it’s all about how I want to be someone, and I dunno I’ve always wanted to be successful and yet I’ve always been self conscious. Building an image, lets face it, is super important in our world, or its at least something facing us every day.
I’ll take myself for example. I have a facebook, twitter, linkedin, instagram, about.me, couchsurfing, tinder, and a blog. Maybe this is more than the average person, maybe less, maybe normal, I’m not really sure. But I know that many people have at least one of these ways that we create an image and world of ourselves online. So I guess I’ve always had this image I’m tring to build, whether its a personal brand which I’ve heard is important, or a repuatation among friends.
So, here I am in Cuba and I’ve also traveled five months through Mexico by myself and heard a crapload of praise: Omg you’re so brave. I’d never travel alone, I’d never hitchhike, I’d never go to Mexico. Wow thats so cool. And so on. And yeah I’ve had moments where I’ve felt cool, but more often than not I just feel the same as I always felt about myself.
There’s that saying: “Wherever you go, there you are.” Which is actually a blessing, because
1) You realize that you can’t escape yourself and have to face yourself, but also
2) that you get to bring yourself elsewhere and get viewed in a totally different light everywhere you go. Imagine that you’re sitting on a conveyor belt, and with each new location a different color spotlight shines down on you, highlighting something different about yourself.
It’s also just people: the lots and lots of people that you’re meeting, they all make different judgements of you. I’ve been called the definition of a free spirit. I’ve been told I need to think less. I’ve been told I focus too much on what time it is. It’s fascinating to realize that I actually have no control over how I come across to people. The idea of curating an image for the public is, though useful in some circumstances, ultimately a lie.
The only thing that stays constant is how I see myself. I’ve come to realize that I do have a self image that is based on my own values and has nothing to do with how people see me: I respect myself when I do nice things for people. When I struggle with Spanish and succeed in communicating in the end. When I run.
These are the aspects of myself I need to hone and develop, rather than trying to shape myself into the image that I want to be. I have no control over how I’m percieved; everyone will see what they want to see.
Anyways, the last time i went out on a run in Havana I left the apartment and took off down the narrow street filled with bikes and people. A little dog started barking at me and jumped into my way. Now, backstory: I’ve had a bunch of street dogs that barked like crazy and chased me and didnt leave me alone back in Mexico. So when this dog barked I yelled NO! at it, because that’s what worked in Mexico.
But here, the entire street erupted in laughter: kids, moms, everyone. I realized that a single tiny dog had jumped out at me and I must have looked ridiculous yelling at it.
I’ve never been good at it, at laughing at myself; I take myself pretty seriously. But for one of the first times, I chuckled and really didn’t care that I was the laughing stock of this entire street, and I continued on my run, which brings me back to the smooching noises.
I got a lot of them, always, but also on this run. And I usually minded, because I felt disrespected and reminded of my body and my status as an object of sexual desire.
Hey lady! Hola guapa! I love you! Ooooo! *smoochy noise*, *smoochy noise*
But this time I didn’t mind because I was on a run and I felt badass. I felt proud of myself for running, I respect myself for running, and nobody could affect me.
Two men stopped their car, opened their door, shouting at me, muevete rubia muevete! Move it blondie move it!
I was running slowly, my burning face dripping sweaty with effort, fielding rude shouts from all sides. But I leapt across the street feeling absolutely proud.