I try not to worry about safety in this country.
This may sound gravely irresponsible, but I am a worrier by nature. Too often the “what ifs” and “what could bes” consumed me, until I’d exhausted all possible courses of action I would take if ever they were to occur. Many times I deal with uncontrollable events by “forgetting” they can happen, “convincing” myself that I won’t be a victim, even though deep down inside I know that I’m not invincible.
Childish as it may sound, feigned ignorance gave me the courage to walk through the treacherous streets of North West DC at all hours during my 4 years of undergrad; in spite of the fact that my roommate had been held at gun point, and our neighbors had been robbed. But that was my life in DC.
Here in Moldova, no matter how hard I try to “forget” about the dangers of living abroad or being a foreigner in a village, I am reminded to never get too comfortable. For example: today, while walking around Chisinau (the capital), this toothless man stopped me and my friend on the street to tell us how beautiful we were. He then turns to me and tells me that I’m the most beautiful woman in Moldova, and he wouldn’t let us walk away until he could kiss my hand.
Roughly two hours later while riding the bus home, an elderly man sat down next to me on the bus. He leaned in close. His breath wreaked of alcohol, and he said something I couldn’t understand. He then motioned for me to take my head phones off and tried to take them off for me when I was reluctant to do so. Then, he informed me that he and I were going to go into Chisinau together because I have “beautiful legs”. I turned my head away in an effort to ignore him but when he subtly attempted to touch my leg, I brush him away just as these two women got involved in a loud argument, which became a distraction for everyone. Divine Intervention!
Once I was off the bus, the brief encounter I had with both men weighed heavily on my mind. The fact is. I don’t blend in, which makes me an easy target, easy to track, and an object of fascination. Denying the reality of my situation doesn’t make it any less true, and it certainly doesn’t make me any safer.
What does make me safer is the concern and support of my community.
Last week I moved out of my host mom’s house, so I currently live alone. However, the owners of the house went through great lengths to ensure that every light switch worked, all the bulbs had been replaced, the locks were tight, my windows were covered with paper, my land line worked, etc… It was blatantly obvious that they wanted to ensure that I felt comfortable in my new home. They even purchased me chocolate, champagne and bread as welcoming gifts! Right as they were about to leave, my new host dad/owner of the house pulls me aside.
Host Dad: Laquia, you aren’t afraid of being here by yourself?
Me: No! I’m really excited!
Host Dad: (Slightly confused by my reaction) I’m going to buy more paper to better cover the windows in your room. People can see your silhouette.
Me : (staring at the window) Okay. That sounds good.
Host Dad: And the windows in the kitchen too. Are you sure you aren’t afraid?
Me: No, I’m not afraid.
My host dad then proceeds to ask me my age and is disappointed when he finds out that I am so young. He then goes into great detail about how important it is to befriend my neighbors and not to make enemies. He also ensures me that he knows EVERYONE in the community and to call him if I need anything. Later that evening, he called to check up on me before bed and also called me the next day to make sure that my first night went well! Surprisingly, I received 4 different phone calls from different people (all before 11am) concerning my safety and well being in the new house.
It didn’t end with the phone calls. A cleaning woman from the school stopped by every day last week to “work” in my garden, although it didn’t need work done to it. Also, my host dad stopped by two days after I moved in to check in on me. Almost every day last week, the school director dutifully grilled me on the whereabouts of my new home. She even asked me if I had a bed to sleep on, which I found to be amusing!
I can’t pretend like I didn’t get slightly annoyed. After all, I moved on my own to have more privacy not less, but the truth is, having others look out for me can never be a bad thing. Even when I am in denial about how safe or unsafe I may be, there are people in my corner who aren’t pretending, forgetting, or being irresponsibly negligent. I know that the power of community will keep me safe, even when I don’t do a good job of doing it myself.
To be honest, that’s more than I ever had walking the scary streets of DC.