The times I spend alone to reflect and take stock about life the universe and everything are also the times I pay my respects and acknowledge the wisdom of the wonderful people that inform my thinking and guide me to stretch my horizons while ensuring that my actions are consistent with my values.
These people are my family, friends, people I meet in my daily endeavours, philosophers, writers, artists, theorists, the musicians I listen to and the writers on the walls.
I owe what I have learned from this small adventure to two of those remarkable people – my little sister and a close friend of mine. Together, these two amazing women are my favourite debating partners when we discuss, deliberate, philosophise, deconstruct and construct the world we live in.
It had been what it could be called a heavy and intense week – professionally, socially, physically and emotionally. So, I decided to throw the motorbike on the ferry, pack the bare necessities – a sleeping sheet, towel, shorts and book – and head to Weh Island. So adamant was I not to use a hotel or guesthouse, instead spend my nights on a beach, that I didn’t even pack my toothbrush.
The island is everything I was expecting it to be – winding roads up and down lush hills, plenty of wild life, turquoise waters and friendly people. A few bastions of commercial tourism, but in the main plenty of untouched natural beauty.
After ample exploring and reflecting, I stopped to watch the beautiful sunset. The thought occurred to me that every sunset is beautiful, but I wondered if a beautiful sunset occurs even when we don’t acknowledge it, or it is just an expected event that appears with the regularity of the passing of days. Nonetheless, I decided that what I wanted was the opportunity to watch the sunrise over water, and being an island, it should not be too difficult to reach the opposite direction and find a location from which I could satisfy my desire.
Sure enough, and with only the slightest of challenges, I found a stretch of goldish sand and pristine waters facing east, where I could lie down and wait for the sun to rise. The place was sheltered and secluded, but not too far from a track adjoining to a small hamlet . I adjusted my belongings around me and sat there. Before too long a few people came around to talk and ask the usual questions: where you from; where you stay, etc. In the early part of the evening a steady stream of motorbikes rode slowly on the track, checking me out, but I didn’t sense any ill-intent, fear or discomfort. I reasoned that they were rightfully ensuring the safety of their environs as they were being occupied by a stranger. I crawled inside my sleeping sheet, I heard the last call to prayer for the day and I can’t remember much else, so, I must have fallen asleep.
I woke up at precisely 2.18am with a gentle breeze penetrating the sleeping sheet, a star-studded sky, the sound of the wave crashing close to me and a majestic feeling of wellbeing and freedom, which I welcomed by acknowledging how simple it was to attain that level of freedom. At that point I heard the whispers of my debating partners I mentioned above telling me that I was able to enjoy that moment of freedom because I have a penis … and right they were!
In assessing the scene I couldn’t think of a woman I knew who could willingly put herself in the position I was in – lying on a beach, at night, alone and noticeable. Moreover, I was well aware that both of them had experienced the ugly side of harassment at work, in travel and other settings, anywhere from Rome to Chennai, Colombo to Melbourne, Asmara to Madrid.
I’m no stranger to this reality, and am well aware of the discriminatory and destructive attributes of sexism, and while hanging onto my sense of wellbeing, it was my freedom that pricked my conscience. That is, I was enjoying a freedom that I had taken for granted, therefore relinquishing the responsibility of ensuring that everyone else could enjoy the same level of freedom, or at least acknowledging that not everyone can enjoy the same freedom. And there is no greater form of oppression than that of obstructing someone’s freedom to attain what another person can take for granted, however small that freedom may be.
It worried me that I could enjoy such overwhelming freedom, in what could be defined as a typical situation, only because I am a male. Moreover, I thought of the limitations I have, in the society I live in, to change this condition, and contribute to the security of women, not necessarily because of my actions, but simply because of my anatomy. In other words, even if my actions and thoughts are directed to what I think not to impinge on the security of women, my sex does.
I sought comfort in the thought that my little sister and my friend would forgive my shortcomings, but I wasn’t sure about all the other women, including the two who appeared on the beach at first light, possibly looking for a bit of privacy, but disappeared in the shadows once alerted of my presence.
I was granted my wish to watch the sun rise over water – stunning as I imagined – and as I resumed my ride and exploring, I thought of what I need to do to rectify the condition that had come to my awareness – not only the oppression of women, but my role in that oppression. Contribute I can and must, but before I can provide an educated contribution to this cause, at least worthwhile to be considered, I feel I have to unlearn all of that I take for granted. Meanwhile, I will depend heavily on the wisdom of my little sister, my friend and every other person who is willing to whisper to me every time I take for granted the freedoms I cannot share.
Fotos: Weh Island; ’11