Harassment

Written November 16th, 2012

If you are a female thinking about joining the Peace Corps, WARNING you will be harrassed at some point. I knew that coming into this but am finding that I am having a more difficult time than I first imagined. In my village it is generally not so bad to non-existent. When I first arrived there were a few young men here that thought a perk of me living here was that they got free access to my ass every time I walked by. They know better now. I only continue to have issues with one man (a local administrator) and he is fairly easy to avoid. Whenever I go to Moramanga or pretty much leave my village at all I can count on being harassed. By far the vast majority of this is verbal and falls into one of two categories. 1: the things that are not necessarily considered to be rude and harassment in Malagasy culture but is to my American psychy. This includes being yelled at “yeah forigner!” (which literally happens probably once a minute or so when I am walking around the market in Moramanga) or comments on how I look (nice face is how they say it here). 2: the things that are considered not okay in Malagasy culture but guys still say anyways. This includes “do you have a sipa?” (boyfriend but more commonly means fuck buddy/piece on the side), “can I be your sipa”, “give me your number”, and my favorite; “take me back to France with you”. I am generally pretty good about ignoring these kinds of things. The one that really gets me are the constant shouts of vazaha (foreigner). Most the time these people don’t even have anything to say to you they just shout “Oh vazaha! oh vazah! oh vazaha!” over and over again. If anyone in my village calls me vazah though, prepare of war. I have lived here over 6 months everyone know me or either knows of me (not to brag, but I am kind of a big deal) so anyone who calls me vazaha is clearly not from around here. I usually just respond “I’m not a foreigner  I live here” and then see how they responds. Sometimes people are very nice and curious as to what I am doing is some random little Malagasy village but more often then not they are jerks and keep on calling me a vazaha. Apart from the verbal harassment  there is the grabbing. In the market men occasionally grab my thigh/ass as I walk by. This doesn’t happen very often during the day time but is a lot more common at night. The last time I was in Moramanga at night I was walking around with a fellow male volunteer and everything was great. I ran back maybe 20 feet to another stall to buy something and in the minute or so I was away from him I got grabbed at and a police officer creeped on me. It is crazy to see the difference between a single female and walking in a pair. Generally when the grabbing happens I just walk away and don’t give them any attention. However today, I kind of threw a fit. There was a group of guys playing cards over by where my taxi brousse station is so I walked past them many times during the day dropping stuff of at the vehicle. Every time I walked past they would yell something at me. The last time I walked by a guy grabbed at me and I exploded. I yelled at him and said the ultimate insult; “tsy mahalala fomba”. This sort of means “you’re rude” but more acuratlly it translates to “you don’t know the way of doing things”. This is the first time I have ever said that to an adult. With kids its totally okay, but I have heard horror stories where volunteers have said that to adults and got into physical altercations about it. Luckily nothing like that happened, but as I turned to leave I got grabbed again…. So I flipped them of and started expressing my feelings in English. It was mildly therapeutic.
Being harassed whenever you leave your village is hard but doable. But lately I have been having issues in my village with construction workers who are fixing the road and bridge in my town. They love to yell things at me and drive me insane. I have even got hissed at (the Malagasy cat call) while standing in my front yard brushing my teeth. Not okay! I keep on trying to complain to people about it but everyone just seems to think it is hilarious  my counterpart especially.He just laughs and responds with “men love to joke”. He is oh so helpful .. Most men I talk to have the same reaction while women are just sort of like yeah, that happens. I tried to talk to one of the supervisors and he just told me to talk to the boss. The same boss who is Chinese and does not speak Malagasy (and therefor I cannot talk to him). I keep on asking people when they will be done and they always say there is still a lot of work. They have been working for about 5 months (almost as long as I have lived here) and I hope they finish up and leave soon!

2 thoughts on “Harassment

  1. Verbal harassments as long as it’s not a threat and there are no physical contacts are not considered harassment in Madagascar. So are bullying at school, non-buraucratic workplace, or between friends.
    My advice (I know it sounds rude, unhelpful, and insulting!) is “Ignore and Get over it!”. Consider it as part of the Peace Corps experience (Expect the unexpected!). As long as you care and have an angry face at them, they will keep doing it.
    Some of my high school classmates used to respond “Inona ny tsy hita?” at boys’ hissing and it worked (the conversation is over!).

  2. Hey, I’m a PCV in Morocco and over here I will say–we know how you’re feeling! In my own site, I know everyone in my neighborhood, I know their mothers and their friends and I have the head of police on speed-dial (luckily my policemen are incredibly protective of me. There are good and bad aspects to that). However, as soon as I leave my area I get called at and hissed at and people ask if I’m French… basically everything you mentioned aside from the ass-grabbing. I don’t leave my site very often, and when I do it’s to go see another PCV and we are extremely protective of our own.

    I do have to spend long amounts of time in the center of my town, and I have a few tactics that might be applicable. If not, feel free to ignore them or even this whole comment! ;)

    1. I have made a point to befriend certain corner-stores and newspaper stands and strike up conversations with them at least once or twice a week. They know my name, they know I’m a teacher of English and they’ve seen me talking/walking with students. When it’s a “bad harassment day”, I go from one safe-zone to the next; I don’t wear headphones because I want to be able to use all my senses.
    2. Use your students, if you have them. If you run into them in big cities, especially hub-cities for internet or resources, etc, make a big deal about walking around with locals.
    3. Remember, when you came to Madagascar you didn’t know any of the local language. Now you KNOW what that the muttering under their breath (or not) may be. Take pride in your increased vocabulary! :D
    4. I don’t know what resources you have in Madagascar, but with PC Morocco, our Gender and Development committee made an awesome Toolkit for sexual harassment relevant to Morocco. If it’s something you think you can utilize in Madagascar or are interested in translating, it is a great resource! http://gadmaroc.wix.com/gad#!resources

    More than anything else, know you’re not alone out there and you have a worldwide community of PCVs giving you lots of support from afar!

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