Catcalls and Other Unnecessary Patriarchal Bullshit

About a month ago I was walking down the street, I had been sick for a while and had left the house only to get something for my cough. The water had been shut off in our apartment for about three days and this was day three, so I was sick, un-showered, exhausted and not in the mood for chatting with annoying strangers. I stopped to have a quick coughing fit on a street corner when I saw a man spot me and swerve out of his way to approach me. I saw the look in his eye, every woman who has ever received unwanted attention knows this look, he came over and gave me “hola, hermosa”. I glared at him shot back with a, “en serio?” between coughs and continued walking. I was literally coughing all over the street and this tool thought it was a nice opportunity to tell me I was pretty. I had a similar situation more recently in a fit of sneezes when a man approached and asked if he could get to know me better. The answer was no.

Almost worse than these situations is walking down the street and passing taxis honk as the drivers slow down and whistle. What a cop out, I don’t even get the satisfaction of telling them to shove it when they’re in a vehicle. This is probably the most obnoxious occurrence in the entire world. Street harassment. I say entire world because it is not unique to any one place, it has happened to me in every part of the world I have been so far from my home town in Vermont to the high Andes to West Africa I have received unwanted catcalls from men whose paths I have had the misfortune to cross.

The most amazing thing about street harassment to me is when I tell my male friends about it they can’t believe it. It’s like this whole other dimension they never have the pleasure of experiencing. I was recently out in town, in Cusco, with a male friend on a Saturday morning. We walked around shopping for a while and eventually said, “chau” as I continued to walk home to my apartment and he caught a taxi. I was not ten feet away from him when the unwanted attention swarmed. To second I was not in the company of a man I was fair game. I find this particularly insulting because of what this implys. That a woman isn’t to be bothered in the presence of a man and that is to be respected but if she is alone or with female friends, it’s fair game- respecting mens wishes not womens. It’s bullshit.

When I tell men to go to hell after hollering something obscene it is absolutely predictable what is going to happen next, every woman will tell you, the pig’s fragile ego will be damaged and he will immediately call you a bitch or say to his friend that what a bad temper that bitch has. How the fuck is it my fault for defending myself from being harassed? Worse than this is when you attempt to vent about such an occurrences and a man tells you, “well that’s what you get for being beautiful” or something to this effect. Oh, this is my fault for my appearance? Sorry, next time I leave the house I’ll be sure to wear a burlap sack and paper bag over my head. This is the same argument people make about women’s clothing when they say “she was asking for it”. It’s not the fault of the creep but the woman for existing. If there was no wheelchair ramp and your disabled grandma couldn’t get into a restaurant would you tell her, “well it’s just what you get for being in a wheel chair?” Probably not, you would likely blame to restaurant for not having appropriate wheelchair access for Granny. See what I’m getting at here?

I don’t know where the phenomenal confidence of these pigs comes from but I think women need some of it. There’s a serious imbalance happening. Women are somehow raised to be insecure delicate creatures and men overly confident jerks who think women owe them something. News flash, we don’t. This idea that women owe the world something is absurd and has got to go. Women get guilted into talking to, dancing with, going out with, and having sex with men they don’t want to spend time with because they don’t want to hurt his feelings. This is the most backwards normalized shit I have ever seen. I preach this to my friends to an obnoxious point. Just because some guy buys you a drink does not mean you have to do anything for him. Personally, I refuse the drinks with a glare and that usually sends a clear message but women shouldn’t have to feel as if they are being fucking hunted if they want to go out on public. Honestly.

I know none of this information is new to the world. There are probably a million blog posts about street harassment. Yet, the harassment never stops. So men, don’t be dicks, don’t yell shit at women and get offended when they don’t respond by dropping to their knees and sucking your dick. What the hell do you think is going to happen when you yell or whistle at a random chick? And women, tell men to shove it more often tell them to fuck off. Not only is it liberating, you have no obligation to be nice to anyone, you don’t owe anyone shit.

While my initial reaction is to be angry at the individuals who act overly aggressively and gross towards women I know it is a larger problem than that one person. It has a lot to do with societal standards and norms. One the makes men the hunters and women prey. What a stone aged idea. Come on, people, we can do better and be more respectful to each other.

P.S to all the haters: This is where I get called an angry feminist or a man hater. While these things do make me angry all I’m asking is to shed a little light on the actual absurdity of public harassment. In addition, I do not hate men, I am against patriarchal norms and the boxes it puts people into.

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Party Imperialism

For the past two months I have been in Cusco, so I’m not exactly what you would call a “traveler”..yet. Soon, I will be one of those dirty backpackers with a look of bewilderment somewhere in a plaza toting around my belongings. To be honest, I don’t want to be one of these people, not because I don’t want to see new places, because I don’t want to be associated with a certain breed of backpackers. The party hostel packers. This specific type of culture is not unlike a frat culture but without U.S law enforcement. Everything that disgusts me about frat culture in America, from rape to racism, is present in party hostels in an arguably even more horrific way.  What is most shocking to me about this culture is the unwillingness people have to leave their own culture behind.

Two years ago I arrived to Cusco as a volunteer and some other volunteers invited me out to a hostel in town called “Wild Rover”. This hostel, unbeknownst to me, is a notorious party hostel chain that has several locations across South America. At the door you had to leave your passport number and locals, with a few exceptions, were turned away. It was almost strictly English speaking white people who were admitted to this hell hole. English music bumped through the bar as shirtless bar tenders poured liquor down willing and unwilling people’s throats who danced on the bar. “This is a frat party” I thought to myself- although I have very little experience attending such events even in The United States it resembled a culture I was familiar with. Why the hell would you travel all the way to South America to just continue to experience your own culture? Not only that, the worst parts of western culture.

I do not understand how people travel through South American countries without even trying to experience local culture in any form. For god’s sake, at least stay in a locally owned hotel and support the local economy. The wide spread tourist industry has allowed for people to have all the comforts of home while abroad. While I understand having some of these things can be nice- like familiar food, you are not in your home country so why not try to enjoy what the place you are in has to offer? How can you even say you have been to a place without experiencing parts of the culture? That’s how I saw Wild Rover’s guests. People who wanted to visit other places, but only to an extent, which is sad to me because Peru has so much to offer. If you want to be that ignorant why even leave your home country if you can’t be open to new things? I am not trying to generalize everyone who stays at these establishments but rather capture the essence of the culture behind hostel’s like this. Party imperialism if you will.

Such businesses are taking advantage of the relaxed laws and the tourist industry in other countries that will attract people with a party agenda with no return to the local community or acceptance of the local community. In fact, the local community is ostracized! Okay, you are on vacation. I get it, I like to party too. But damn it, have some class and respect for the local people and area. As an American, it’s embarrassing. These places are not enriching in any way or different than what you already know. Try something new, learn something, be a little uncomfortable, and you will grow as a person and hopefully be less of a douche bag.

Asparagus and other global veggies

Since the growing season has begun back home in Vermont I thought I’d pay a tribute to one of the first available crops: asparagus. This vegetable absolutely delights me, I know, I’m probably a weirdo. But seriously, if you have never tried raw asparagus, I highly recommend it. Flavorful, crunchy and delicious. My first farm season started last May, and I had the delight of picking asparagus out of the field and crunching into the miracle of a farm fresh veggie. This was the moment I fell in love with farming, and I remember it clearly.

To answer the question on your mind right now, no, I have not gone off the deep end there is a reason I’m writing about asparagus and it has to do with Peru. Take a wild guess as to what one of Peru’s main exports is. Asparagus! Now, that might not seem strange to you but let me tell you, here and Cusco, I have never even laid eyes on a single stalk of asparagus. I have seen it mentioned on a menu or two but it’s unclear as to if it’s actually available and is certainly a higher ticket item than other veggies. From what I understand most of it is grown in Lima and other warmer, most hospitable climates. I am unclear as to whether it’s available for the general public to buy or not.

The sheer amount of Asparagus being sent overseas is absolutely astounding. In 2016 Peru exported 125,000 ton of asparagus that accounts for 90% of the country’s air exports followed by blueberries (that I’ve also never seen here) and flowers according to freshplaza.com. Next time you are in a grocery store and you see asparagus that isn’t labeled ‘local’ I am willing to bet it was sourced from Peru. Asparagus is a vegetable you often associate with eating in the dead of winter. Guess where it’s coming from. Not California or even close. The United states accounted for 65% of all of Peru’s asparagus exports in 2016. Americans don’t even eat vegetables! Where is this stuff going? Probably the bottom vegetable draw in our refrigerators to rot or maybe to a few restaurants to use as a component to a dish but gets picked around. The vegans? I don’t know..

The larger point I’m trying to make is not only about asparagus it’s about food, trade, and the global world. Yes, here we go again. I don’t believe the majority of Americans put a lot of thought into where there produce comes from. In the summer fresh local vegetables are available but usually still more expensive than something that was imported. Yet, the crops that are exported aren’t available to people in the country that’s producing it and if it is the price is inflated because of the trade value.

Let’s break this down. Crops are grown in so called “developing countries” and sent to so called “developed countries” because there is a demand and an available profit. But the producing country then has very little access to the crop because it is unavailable and expensive. Developed countries economic demands are then being put before the value of people’s health in nutrition in the providing countries. This is nothing new in terms of history. Warm, beautiful place, where people can provide for themselves off the resources of the land is stripped of resources by the white man. We all know this story but do we think about it when we eat things like asparagus with our dinner in the middle of February?

Now, I’m not saying Peruvian’s health conditions are crumbing because they need more asparagus. I’m saying this seems like an unequal power dynamic and I understand there is economic incentive for the Peruvian economy and, hopefully, although I haven’t looked into it, for the growers as well. Global food trade is bigger than just vegetables it affects communities and the environment but isn’t likely to change as long as there is economic reasons underlying it all. It’s true, we live in a global world but I think we need to take that into consideration more often in our daily lives.

So next time you’re in the grocery store, pick up some asparagus and see where it’s from and when you’re craving veggies this summer go local!

Language and Communication

When I first became an English as a Second Language teacher I had mixed feelings about the results of my work, culturally. Was it harmful to  be placing so much emphasis on the English language as essential for success? I would say yes. The Sociology major in me nagged away at my brain telling me, “this is imperialistic, Laura, damn it!” It’s true, people can earn more money by speaking English because it’s extremely helpful in the tourism industry in Cusco, and around the world, but it’s forcing priority of the language of people who come to visit over indigenous languages. Quechua is the native tongue throughout the Andes in the ancient Incan empire sprawling through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Quechua is so ancient it was thousands of years before it was a ever written language. Words for modern technologies like ‘washing machine’ are more like a hybrid between Spanish and Quechua.

Quechua is important to the Andes because is a key element of preserving Andean culture- not for the tourists- but for the people who belong to this ancient heritage. Therefore, placing an emphasis on English to make money off of visitors is devaluing parts of the culture that has existed here for thousands of years. That is hugely problematic. As an English teacher I felt I was contributing to a kind of modern imperialism and I certainly did not agree with it. While my students (ironically) reassured me children still learn Quechua in school.

Despite the cultural value displacement mental moral dilemma I experienced the language learning process fascinated me. People who didn’t speak a word of English could learn so quickly and put the language in action. What a cool function of the human brain to be able to express something in a foreign tongue! The functioning of language is an amazing phenomenon.

Let’s back up and talk about the main purpose of language: Communication. Being able to communicate through language is part of the human experience and sometimes we face obstacles with communication even the same language is being spoken. Other times communication barriers happen when different languages are being spoken. Lack of communication and understanding creates conflict as small as an argument with your wife to as large as war. Conflict almost always causes harm- so is there a way to prevent that? Maybe the answer is communication. So was teaching English all bad? It seems more complicated than that.

I was listening to a Ted Radio Hour podcast last week and the topic was language. One guest was explaining that it’s been theorized that in the future various forms of English will be spoken on every country on earth. Making it a global language. Creating an engine for universal communication. In theory, English would be something that would unify all people to communicate with each other. While the fact that English could be this universal language is problematic to me I  also find it be kind of a beautiful idea that it could unify people across nations.

This helped me find peace in working in ESL. The demand is not going to go away so why not someone like myself, who also understands the value of preserving ancient culture and traditions, teach English to help further my students career goals in this modern world. I am grateful to be immersed in such a rich culture and I too have learned a new language. Humans are only going forward. People are not going to stop speaking English and tourists aren’t going to stop coming to Cusco so maybe there is balance in there between communication and education about culture that can help people today gain a broader global perspective.

Expat vs Immigrant

,A few weeks ago I moved back to Cusco, Peru. On a bit of a whim and very little planning. I bought a plane ticket and was sure I could find housing and a job no problem once I arrived in person. I was right. But why is it so easy for a western woman to just up and leave and move to another country without fear of admittance through Peru’s border, without worry about finding a job without a visa? Well, I think it’s pretty obvious why PRIVILEGE.

For those of you who have been living under a rock: the United States national security turns people away at the border based on the the region of the world they come from but more so the color of their skin regardless of their situation. Someone could be seeking refuge of war torn country,  or seeking better job opportunities, an education, or maybe they just want a freakin’ vacation but before I go on a tangent about systemic racism my point is this: an American passport is basically a global golden ticket. Simply the fact that I can get on my computer and purchase a plane ticket to South America without a shred of doubt about entering Peru for the third time, especially after last time I overstayed when my visa for at least three months, is a HUGE global privilege I hold as an American. Not only can I vacation where I please but I can choose to live in other countries if I so desire.

Living in Peru makes me an “Expatriate” or “expat” which isn’t entirely accurate since I don’t plan on living here for any extended period of time but I work, have an apartment and am not a stinky backpacker so I’ll take it. But why am I, and other people in similar situations, not “immigrants”? It is in reference of the country said person has original citizenship in. Myself and other westerners are “expats” while those whose home countries are not considered “first world” get labeled as ‘immigrants’ when they move to other countries.

In The United States ‘immigrant’ has become a tainted word associated with being desperate, poor, and dare I say, usually brown or black. This is another manifestation of global privilege that’s perpetuated in subtle ways and in this case it’s through language and rhetoric. It’s a view of what is considered safe and what is considered potentially dangerous. Expats and immigrants can be found all over the world but the difference is how they are perceived. The difference is that it’s easy to be an expat, you are welcomed, and even when the system doesn’t work in your favor rules bend to do so. Immigrants are seen as a burden and are largely unwelcomed.

The best example of how easy it is to be an expat I think in relation to my own life is my job. I don’t have a work visa yet I have a job and know that is a widely accepted fact- no visa no problem. My presence in Peru is not seen as threatening but rather as helping- to teach citizens English. I think we all know what the attitude towards undocumented workers in the United States is like.

I urge other people living abroad, so called “expats”, to really take this into consideration. You ooze with privilege so what are you going to do about it? Be aware at the very least that your birthplace has allowed you to slide by wandering the world while others are receive the opposite set of tools in life.