Sri Lan-cock: A Snag in Solo Female Travel

It’s been a week in Sri Lanka, and it is remarkably different from Thailand or anywhere else I’ve been. I’ll have a more general post about that and some brighter details of my travels later on. For now, I’ve been dwelling on some unsavory thoughts and want to get them off my chest.

I’ve been staying in Colombo with the sister of a wonderful and talented friend from Pitt, and she has been nothing short of a spectacular host and sunburst of joy. This weekend was a long weekend because of poya, a monthly holiday celebrating the full moon, so she and a friend of hers and I went to Haputale, a quaint town in the hill county. The trains were sold out, so we took a 3:30AM bus out of Colombo on Saturday morning. The night before, a few friends came over and we lounged, chatted, and ate ice cream. One of the discussions was about gross things that can happen on crowded buses in Sri Lanka. Stories about having men rub up against girls, legs being spread unreasonably wide on seats, penises being whipped out and played with, and general commentary on the sexual repression in Sri Lankan culture were swapped. I just listened, made the proper “GROSS” exclamations when necessary, and spooned ice cream into my mouth.

I’m pretty good about sleeping on buses, and there isn’t much else to do on a 3:30AM bus. The nature of the seating and our baggage meant that the two girls sat in a 3-seater bench with their baggage between them while I sat in a cramped double-seater in fetal position with my bags beneath me. I had started dozing when I heard the girls shout my name and ask if I was okay. It would have been weird that they asked, but there was a man sitting across the aisle from me, leaning in and staring very intensely at me. He didn’t stop staring when I turned back, and when he got off the bus to return to the station, he stood directly under my window and continued staring at me. The girls said that he might be waiting for the bus to fill up more and then sit next to me. They said they were going to keep an eye on me in case anything weird happens.

The bus fills up more, and a Sri Lankan guy signals if he can sit next to me. I oblige. I don’t know what happened to Crazy Eyes, but the bus starts moving, I still have my personal space, and I fall asleep. I wake up intermittently because dude has moved significantly closer and is pressing his leg against mine, his arm into me, and he doesn’t move when I nudge him with my knuckles. When I look over, the aisle is packed with people, dude is asleep, and the bus is hugging curves mercilessly, so I think maybe this is natural. He feels weirdly warm and fleshy despite wearing trousers, and I try to see just how much of my personal space he’s occupying, but I’m too tired and it’s too dark for me to make any real judgements.

When it’s too light outside to continue sleeping, I was dazing about, still squished up against the window and this dude. It dawns on me how uncomfortable my position is, and I get more uncomfortable about how close he is. I understand cramped public transport, but this is just ridiculous. I look down at our thighs for the first time in daylight to examine the space situation, and that’s when I noticed his penis. It was out in full glory, albeit mostly hidden underneath his bag on his lap, but it was definitely out of his pants and pointed in my general direction. HIS FUCKING PENIS, GUYS. Easily the most horrifying thing to wake up to on a bus. HIS PENIS. I don’t know how I do it, but I curl up into an even smaller ball, press myself against the wall, stick my arm out the window to make more space. And I think he realizes that I know his dick is out and eventually tucks it completely under his bag and continues to pretend to sleep. I look back at my friends – they’re smiling, saying good morning, savoring the Hill Country – and I’m not sure how to communicate my situation. I wrangle out my phone and text, “I JUST REALIZED THIS MAN NEXT TO ME HAS HIS PENIS OUT AND I HAVE NO IDEA FOR HOW LONG.” Jaws drop, I’m summoned to squeeze in to their three seats, and we start moving all of my shit from my tainted corner across the aisle. When it comes for the big bag under the seat, I tell dude “Hey, can you move?” He shifts his legs over, bag still firmly over his floppy dick. “No, I need you to move. Get up.” What to do now, PERVERT? I wanted him to drop the bag, tuck his dick in, and run off the bus, but he kept the bag secure over his crotch and let me out of the sexual abuse seat. The girls and I talk very loudly about him, how disgusted I am, how he must be fucking insane, how sexually repressed Sri Lanka is, how horrifying this all is, etc. He did curl his penis back up and eventually got off the bus, even though we had been sitting at the same stop for about 10 minutes.

I want this to be a funny story. I mean, it is. It’s RIDICULOUS. WHO DOES THAT?! WHO DOES THIS SHIT HAPPEN TO?! And we did laugh about it for hours later because what is there to do after something like that happens except laugh about it? With more time, I’m struggling to find more humor than disconcertion about it. This was a freak incident (I hope), but it fits in with the general landscape of how I’ve been treated in Sri Lanka by men so far. I get stared at – a lot. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m Chinese, wearing shorts or pretty, and it’s not like I can discern that unless the men come up to me and growl “pretty lady” as I’m passing by or stop their tuk-tuks and do the exact same thing. This happens perhaps 1 out of 60 times I get stared at by men, and the rest of the time it’s just being devoured by eyes. The same thing happened in Central America, but I was less uncomfortable about it because they were at least vocal about it as well. They hissed, made kissy noises, and shouted their “chinita bonitas,” but here, they don’t make their intentions clear. They hide it. They just stare, like Crazy Eyes, or pretend they’re sleeping and the bus is just rocking them into me.

On the bus ride back to Colombo today, two different men sat next to me, and both pressed up against me again. I can’t tell if the spread of their legs or the space they had in their seat was normal or not, and that’s the guise they hide behind. I baited the first one by receding closer to the wall, and when there was no space left and he still incrementally moved closer, I “woke him up” twice and asked him to move. He barely moved both times and went straight back to leaning into me shortly thereafter while he pretended to sleep. I announced the situation loudly to my friends across the aisle, and then he moved a little more “in his sleep.” It was enough room for me to stick my book between our legs, and then he got the hint, maybe, because his arm was still flush against mine (was this just a matter of space or was he actively manufacturing this situation?). I kept the book up against the next guy, and I receded whenever our arms were touching, and receded more when his arm kept moving closer. He finally moved to another seat for the rest of the ride without ever saying a word to me or looking at me.

I don’t know if I’m just reading the wrong things into these situations because my first bus ride ever featured a guy surreptitiously rubbing his dick all over my thigh while I was asleep (SERIOUSLY, WHO DOES THIS?!?!? WHO EVEN CONSIDERS THIS?!?!?). I don’t want to make a big deal or accuse dudes of acting ignobly when they might not be. But that’s the whole fucking ploy! They assume ladies won’t say anything, so they can get away with this subtle and cowardly sexual violation. However, I assume there must be some men who are not fucking terrible and can help me out when I’m in a pickle or really just want to have a conversation. My favorite part of traveling (besides food) is meeting people, but how can you discern good men from nefarious ones when they all act the same? Do I just assume every man is a pig? Do I refuse help from everyone? Do I ignore everyone? What’s the distinction between precaution and paranoia?

Tomorrow, I start traveling alone again. I’m genuinely nervous and a little scared, and this is the first time I’ve felt this kind of anxiety. I was a little uneasy at the beginning of Central America because I was told I would be raped, killed and drug trafficked by many Costa Ricans, but I always managed to find other backpackers to travel with until I got over the fears born from hearsay. Now, with my own consistently terrible experiences, I’m setting off in a country not designed for backpackers, during the off-season, at that. I’m also not doing the usual tourist route because I want to go scuba diving in the east and then up north, both locations being erstwhile Tamil Tiger country. It’ll to be harder to find someone to rely on if/when I’m getting harassed. I’m going to have to grow some balls, put on long pants, and plaster on my don’t-fuck-with-me face because this misogyny is bullshit and I’m not letting it bring down my travels. And yes, misogyny is a loaded word that I’m reluctant to use because blah blah cultural relativity wa-wa, but I don’t care. Pressing your dick into my thigh while I’m asleep is not a cultural thing. It’s fucking unacceptable anywhere.

Final note: I know this makes me sound like I’m shitting on Sri Lanka. I’m not. I’ve had a great (albeit EXPENSIVE) time so far, and the country is beautiful (albeit VERY HOT). I’m looking forward to my next two weeks of delicious food, ancient sites, and diving around shipwrecks. I just can’t stop thinking about how shitty men can be, here or anywhere, and it’s bringing me down. I’ll just have to rock these next two weeks to make up for some unfortunate situations.

Advertisements

26 thoughts on “Sri Lan-cock: A Snag in Solo Female Travel

  1. esther says:

    I only have two words to say ‘pepper spray.’ Buy some it’s on me.

  2. Venison says:

    Oh my how embarrassing. On behalf of Sri Lankans, let me apologise. 😦 The issues you have described are a social problem here that is only gaining the attention it deserved. This totally sucks guests in Sri Lanka too are subjected to the same crap.

    I would not recommend public travel to any tourists, let alone my own mother. WTF is wrong with these kids…

  3. Venison says:

    The issues you have described are a social problem here that is only gaining the attention now, that it deserved long ago. ***

  4. Gehan says:

    Hi from Sri Lanka,
    It’s funny I should come across this post now when just yesterday there was a campaign launched to stop the harrassment of women in Colombo, a large proportion of which occurs in public transport like the incident you described. Your rage is well-directed; there is absolutely no excuse for such behaviour.

    Many people have tried speculating the reason behind this behaviour, especially in Sri Lanka (I feel this occurs in India as well, but I can’t substantiate that). I doubt you can blame cultural what-not, because at the end of the day no culture can condone this behaviour. It’s more a reflection of like you said: women not saying/doing anything about it. Most times they are too embarrassed, to mortified with shame to do anything in a crowded forum so they close their eyes and bear it until one of them has to get off the bus.

    It’s sad that your trip to this country will be tainted with this experience. Despite it being off-season, you should find the populated tourist areas safe for a lone traveller. As for the bus situation, you seem to have already discovered the tricks to combatting it: being vocal and demonstrative regarding your space. I would also suggest you try sitting in the front few rows closer to the conductor and driver. Those are normally “reserved” for clergy or pregnant women but you should be able to sit there no problem. Besides, if anything happens, you can more easily notify the conductor or driver then.

    Have a great time in Sri Lanka!

    • Sonali says:

      Firstly, I’m sorry u had to face this situation repeatedly. I’m a woman too- travelled in public transport regularly. Devised a strategy for deciphering perverts- only a pervert will sit next to u if all other seats are empty except yours. Solution: immediately get up and occupy another seat. Keep ur bag slightly on the seat next to you. If a shady looking fellow comes, just get up.
      As a long-term solution, I think women need to be more courageous (I’m not- but I want to make a change…) I’ve friends who have taken perverts to the police station, hit them with their umbrellas. But there are the good men- rare and small in their numbers- but still there. Somewhere. I think they too need to participate.

      P.S. Gehan, thank u for taking the time to comment. It’s reassuring to see someone male concerned about this issue faced by women, that none associate any importance to.

    • Charlene says:

      Gehan it’s the same in India as well………..and it’s really sorry state for women in our country ……I can’t count the number of times similar incidents have happened to me….whether its been when I was just out of school or till today……

      Yes I’ve learnt the hard way too how to express my discomfort and get out of these situations…but that doesn’t stop the incidents from happening.

  5. indica says:

    I’m so terribly sorry. This is so bad for Sri Lanka and is only slowly changing. Sri Lanka Unites is doing a campaign called SHOW starting Monday (http://www.srilankaunites.blogspot.com/2012/06/campaign-for-prevention-of-harassment.html).

    I somehow think you’ll be safer in less touristed areas. There’s something about the anonymity of cities that can make people less considerate.

    But seriously, sorry, that’s such shitty behavior on the regular. Inshallah, the culture is changing a bit faster now

  6. […] money quote from bfang is ‘SERIOUSLY, WHO DOES THIS?!?!? WHO EVEN CONSIDERS THIS?!?!?’ (Sri Lank-cock: A Snag In Solo Female Travel). Seriously though. This is a tourist, ie guest and this is really bad for Sri Lanka. I understand […]

  7. Jack Point says:

    *sigh*

    Yet another victim.

    Think they should just have signs at the airport warning people, nothing ever seems to happen, however much people complain.

  8. jehanlive says:

    I’m a Sri Lankan guy myself and this men rubbing against women thing has happened to most women I know, my 45 year old mom, aunts, my sister, my classmates, all of them have been unfortunate.

    But the penis thingy is another new level of degeneration. We’re such a ‘conservative country’, you know, it’s taboo to talk about it. So most women keep quiet.

    I’m extremely sorry that you had to experience this.

  9. Dili says:

    I’m so sorry that this happened to you. Sadly its not uncommon but its not everyone. It’s an absolutely despicable thing that I hope you never have to go through again.

    I think you’ll find a more hospitable and respectable reception from the rural areas if you happen to visit such places. While development hasn’t caught up to them, it’s also preserved the natural beauty and good people that urban public transport seemingly repels.

    I do hope the rest of your stay here is as wonderful as possible to blot this dark spot out 🙂

  10. ruwan says:

    several have commented saying that this is a common situation in Sri Lanka, which is totally wrong. Your case is a special case (i will tell why shortly) and this type of situations are rare. I suggest if this happens to you again, directly raise the concern so that others in the bus can see, and rest assured, harasser will be treated the way he deserves and will be handed over to the police. And such guys get good sexual treatment in prisons too.
    Now let me elaborate why i think your situation is special.
    In SL, public transport is so bad, event lower middle class people try their best to use their own transport methods, at least a tuk tuk. You can see this if you see the traffic situation in Colombo areas, specially in weekdays. Every one uses a car despite extremely high car taxes (200% – 500%) and and extremely high fuel cost. This indirectly says that rich people do not use public transport. Now, you being a white women, people assume you are rich. (this is a typical situation in SL, everyone thinks white people are rich!). People wonder why such a rich women travel in public transport. To make things worse, there are lots of white prostitutes in SL coming from china, Russia, and few other countries. People who wonder why such a rich person travel in a bus tend to assume the person is a prostitute due to these reasons. With that wrong presumption people try to do such things.

  11. Ismail S says:

    Really sorry this happened to you 😦 119 is our police hotline..just incase things get a bit out of hand. Hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here 🙂

  12. jay says:

    Its all because of the lack of sexual freedom,In conservative asian cultures men and women are kept apart.Why ? ..its tradition…and people don’t follow the good traditions only the stupid traditions.

  13. Angel says:

    Totally wrong? In what way is this not common? Is it because the lady on the receiving end was foreign? I’m sure a poll of even a handful of Sri Lankan women would reveal that this is far from uncommon.

    The penis flashing perv is quite a common motif too. Has happened to me and many I know. And I resemble a rich caucasian lady in the same way a chocolate fudge cookie (monis wiskothu) resembles a brandy snap (suruttu wiskothu). And even if I did, that does not mean it should be condoned. Ah yes, let the sad little pervert have a field day just because he thinks I am a prostitute… does anyone else see what is wrong with this line of thinking?

    I am truly sorry you had to go through this horrid experience and hope you had a great time in SL.

    • Mifi says:

      OMG!!! I just had to laugh coz this is ridiculous! Sexual harassment isn’t rare in public transport but damn….free willy in the bus. Damn, I wish u pepper sprayed him or did something so that everyone knew what a cunt he was. Fuck, I feel kynda bad, agreed it is the responsibility of even males who disagree with this behavior. There’s no excuse, and the ‘white women are either rich or hoes’ theory will make sense to you only if you have severely diminished mental capability. Wish the rest of your experience doesn’t involve anything even remotely similar to this.

  14. OMFG. Seriously?! Who does this?! I realise that sex and being sexual is very much a taboo subject in SL but what kind of insane mofo thinks that it is acceptable to whip out your dick in a public place?!

    I am so sorry that you had to go through this experience.

  15. Frank Booth says:

    You gotta be kidding me. You should’ve stabbed him and keeeeled the bugger, with a fork!

  16. […] Originally from https://bfang.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/sri-lan-cock-a-snag-in-solo-female-travel/ […]

  17. […] the men in my life when I need to get places or do things, I shouldn’t have to worry about exposed penisesor of men masturbating in buses, or outside schools, or in clubs or anywhere in public (all of […]

  18. Emsy says:

    Yeah sounds like a pretty standard experience in SL, hate to say it but I’ve turned into a super b*tch if I ever dare take the bus, don’t put up with even a little toe touching mine!! Arrived a little while ago and staying another 2 months, found this website had some good advice, especially about ‘copying’ the middle / upper class, haha!!

    http://www.ladiestravelinlankaland.com/

  19. […] Closer to home, Sri Lanka has too many shocking statistics for us to ignore. Rape and other crimes against women and girls is on the increase, high numbers of sex offenders are handed suspended sentences (more here and here), officials holding public office are routinely involved in crimes and harassment against women, and women are spoken to and treated in a derogatory manner from the Parliament to public spaces. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: