I’m not a person who regularly swears. The very occasional mild expletive pops out (when needed, I like to think) but never ever directed at someone. However, when I walk down the street in Beira, I often find myself swearing inside my head at people, and wonder when it will verbally come out. I may not be developing a potty mouth, but I feel like I’m developing a potty head.
On any given day, no matter where I walk in Beira, this is what I hear from men:
– “Sssss, sssss.” This is actually a socially acceptable way to get someone’s attention. Not mine. There are some cultural habits I will not succumb to.
– “Seestah. SEEstah.” When I hear this one, I’m always tempted to say, “You don’t know me from church, and we definitely don’t have the same mother. So no, I am not your seestah.”
– “Dona. Dona.”
– “Senhora. Senhora.” These last two are easy to ignore.
Then there are the situations where the A-word frequently pops into my head and I envision myself flipping people off: men who tell me they love me, make kissing noises, or say “Bom dia” in a good-for-them-but-definitely-not-for-me kind of way. Then there was the guy the other day who grabbed my arm and asked why I wouldn’t be his lover.
But dear readers, please don’t worry about single blond girl walking through the streets of dirty Beira. My mother and experience taught me well walking through the souq in Bahrain – set a determined look on your face, walk purposefully, and always focus straight ahead. And I’ve got a mean glare if someone does touch me. I’ve also been known to say a harsh, “Don’t touch me!” in Central America and England (so you see, the icky men are not just in countries where I physically stick out).
And usually when I think I really am going to flip off the next guy who says “Olá” in a sleazy way, I hear someone calling in a friendly voice, “Seestah Jen!” and turn to find a colleague or friend from church greeting me. Then happy words pop into my head, and I can stop for a friendly chat.