A Western Woman in an Eastern Land

It is one of those summer evenings. The air is warm, there is a light breeze, and the temperature is just perfect. I am sitting on a concrete slab, probably making all the local grandmas that see me scream inside their heads that I am going to be sterile if keep sitting on cement. I am waiting for Eric’s English conversation club to finish so we can go home. He is finally out. He and all his twelve or more male students come out. They are all so polite towards me. Some are genuine. Some are trying to impress. Nevertheless, they are polite. I say hi, I talk with a few of them that I know a little better, and we are off to home, supper, and sitting out in the backyard until bedtime.

It is one of those fall afternoons. The morning frost has melted, and the sun shines up high above. I still have to wear a jacket, but the air has that smell of falling leaves that just fills you up. I am walking home from the village clinic I work at. I am already on the street I live on, maybe five hundred meters from home. In the distance I see a van approaching with two young guys in the front seat laughing and pointing. I’ll just look down, I think. I do it all the time now when I’m walking and am about to cross paths with a man. I just look down. I don’t need to know what he thinks about me by seeing his face. Still though, they are coming a little too fast for how bad the road is, and being run over is always a possibility, so I look back up just to make sure there is enough distance between me and the van. As they pass me, the guy sitting in the passenger’s seat rolls his window down and spits in my face. Good thing I’m wearing glasses. I don’t know if I feel anger or humiliation or something else, so I just keep walking home.

It is one of those winter days. One when I wonder why I haven’t lived in Spain for the last ten years. One that regardless of the number of layers I wear, I am still cold. I am going to visit a lady in the village. She has had diabetes for many years, but it is still poorly controlled. I truly don’t know that my going makes any difference for her diabetes, but she seems to enjoy the company, so I keep going. This is probably my forth time at her house, and I thought I finally had down how many people and what familial relations are going on in the home. Wrong. I knock, and this sixty-something-year-old man opens the door. I know I have seen him before, but not in her house, so where? He extends his hand to shake mine. Not the most common thing, but I have shaken a man’s hand before, so I do it again. Before I put all the pieces together, he has pulled my hand and landed a kiss on my cheek (thankfully just my cheek). Then all becomes clear. About two weeks before that, as I was walking down the street, he asked me for a kiss. I knew he had been at clinic before, so I didn’t freak out, but I said no. Actually, I said no three times, and finally I had to walk away because he wasn’t going to drop it. Today he got what he had been looking for.

It is one of those spring mornings. Here the sun rises by five thirty, which is about the time I am walking out of the house with a cup of coffee and the dogs to admire our little garden and admire the tulips. Sometime after Eric comes out to the garden, too. He isn’t like the other men. He is not overly polite, not degrading or opportunistic. He values me, he respects me, he loves me, and he continually points me towards the One that values me and loves me even more than he does.

For some, these stories might sound horrifying. For others, they might seem like a walk in the park. For me, they’re all things to learn from. When Eric’s students are polite, I learn to value politeness more. When someone spits on me (it hasn’t happened again, thankfully), I learn to pity him. When some old man in search of kisses extends his hand, I learn to smile and make sure I am holding something in my hands.

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