I suppose it's a compliment to be told that I walk "like a man". I've never been one to stroll. Depending on where I am and the context of the situation, I typically make it a point to stick out of the crowd rather than blend in. Of course, this is entirely contextual, but my general rationale for this is merely out of a simple fear I have of being someone's collateral damage in a targeted killing. These things really do happen here, and they have become more prevalent problem in the past month between members of Hamas and Fatah. As a result, innocent people get caught in the crossfire. These flashes of fury, as I call them, almost always happens in broad daylight, on a busy street. As such, my eyes and ears are constantly surveying my surroundings for any potential snake in my path. Between the intense sunshine, dodging between the chaos of the traffic, navigating over and around poorly laid sidewalks and craters in the road, and dodging the most dodgy of male creatures, I do sometimes feel an artist in my endeavor to get from Point A to Point B.
No matter what, I move with my own rhythm. Lately, my morning walk to my tutor's house involves a songlist on my Ipod which includes Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" song as well as Technotronic's infamous "Pump up the Jam". I've also recently rediscovered Abba. I can't say that I would listen to Abba or Technotronic in my normal life, but, let's face it, nothing is quite normal here.
If I were to give a lesson to Westerners in how to properly walk through the street in the Middle East, my first bit of advice would to never stop to gawk or stare at the things that strike me. I never stop at all. Never. I am swift-moving and entirely focused. The kiss of death is to look lost or confused. This only invites calamity. In my approach and wake, I have grown accustomed to being stared at and spoken to by Arab men. Arab women don't move like I move, I know this. They also don't wear sunglasses or hats. I wear one or the other, to avoid sun damage, but also to keep my eyes free of dust and debris. I also don't mind breaking a sweat. Compared to slow-moving Arab woman in her uncomfortable shoes and cumbersome long, black hijab, I probably look like a lithe, predatory animal of some sort in my Puma-like sneakers and jeans. I'm ok with that. For what it's worth, I'm properly covered with a linen shirt, too. But I refuse to be stopped, and I also refuse to be the slowest in the herd.
I have learned how to stop a car by simply looking the driver in the eye and giving him a little smirk as I pass. This stops all men cold. It simultaneously tickles them, but also stuns them, too. Women don't look men in the eyes here. I make sure not to do this in a way that invites more attention. Rather, my body language tells them that I am fully aware that they are looking at me, but that they are permitted to look, but not touch. No one is permitted to stop me, or to be foolish enough to follow me. The reality is that I am not a very big or strong girl, but I am quick, and I sure as hell walk like I not only own the street, but I will veritably eat anyone who gets in my way. I also know who the plain-clothed Israelis are by the way they look me. The fact of the matter is, no one in their right mind wants to deal with the fall-out of Western girl caught in their cross hairs. My "walk", which actually a very confident strut, signifies that I'm not only here, but that I will pass unharmed and so will all of those around me.
Today, I dipped into a shop to check out a really cute shirt I've been eyeing in the window for a while. It's a low-cut, super cute yellow and green Brasil futball team tank top. It's funny that in a world were women are covered from head to toe, this sort of thing is even in the windows, but I digress. I walked in the doorway and the clerk immediately started chatting with me. Of course, since I pass by his shop at least twice a day, I recognized him as one of the men who stand in their door fronts every day to watch the city go by. When I told him that I wanted that particular tank top, he asked me if I was from Brasil. I told him no.
"You are from Chile," he said. (A lot of people from this area have family in Chile.)
"No," I said. Before I could say more, he cut me off--
"You are from Honduras," he persisted. (A lot of people work in Honduras from here.)
"No, enough," I said, "I am from America."
In English, he came back with: "You are not American!"
"No, I am, I promise," I laughed, with my blatant American accent.
"But I see your face on the street. You don't walk like American! You walk like the Brasil or the Chile. From the hips. You walk like one of them! You walk like a man!"
Unfortunately, I ended up not buying the shirt. Not because I didn't want it, but because the price wasn't right. Just because I walk around with my wits about me doesn't mean that I spend money like a fool.