Like millions of people around the world, I also read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love when it was released in 2008. It was hard to escape the media frenzy of publicity. The book was everywhere.
It found me via an an episode of the Oprah Winfrey show. I remember curling up next to the fire and reading it in an afternoon. Life was good, my partner of 9 years and I were living the dream on our 31 acre bush block in temperate rainforest, but the book awoke something in me.
The need to travel, and to travel solo. It was shortly after finishing the book, we finished our relationship and I filled a backpack and went to Europe. I’ve spent eight years transient, hitch-hiking everywhere. I still hitch-hike (you’ve may’ve seen me hitching on the roads here in Samoa?)
But, this isn’t a piece about my journey with my thumb. I’m lamenting because of an article I read about two young women from Argentina who were travelling through Ecuador, and murdered.
Maria Coni and Marina Mennegazzo, 22 and 21 were found dead in Ecuador’s Pacific Coast region, they had been sexually assaulted – two men have been found and charged. What followed on after all this went down was the public’s negative reaction to the two women travelling without a male companion. Many people pointed fingers at the women, “what were they wearing?” - “they took the risk” - there was so much victim blaming, so much so that a woman named Guadalupe Acosta wrote a facebook poem from the perspective of the deceased girls , the post has gone viral.
Yesterday They Killed Me
I refused to let them touch me and with a stick they burst my skull. They stabbed me and left me to bleed to death.
Like garbage, they put me in a black polyethylene bag, wrapped with duct tape, and I was thrown onto a beach, where hours later they found me.
But worse than death, was the humiliation that followed.
From the moment they had my dead body, nobody wondered where the bastard was who ended my dreams, my hopes, my life.
No, rather they started asking me useless questions. To me, can you imagine? A dead woman, who cannot speak, who can not defend herself.
What clothes did you have?
Why were you alone?
How could a woman travel alone?
You went into a dangerous neighborhood. What did you expect?
They questioned my parents for giving me wings, for letting me be independent, like any human being.
They said that for sure we were on drugs and we were seeking it with something we did, that they should have watched us.
And now dead I understand that no, for the world I am not like a man. That death was my fault, it will always be. While if the headlines read that two young men travelers were killed, people would be giving their condolences and, with their false and hypocritical double standards, would demand harsher penalties for the murderers.
But as a woman, it is minimized. It becomes less severe, because of course I looked for it. Doing what I wanted to, I found what I deserved for not being submissive, for not wanting to stay at home, for investing my own money in my dreams. For that and more, I was condemned.
And I grieve, because I’m no longer here. But you, yes you are. And you’re a woman. And you have to bear that they keep repeating the same discourse “earn respect,” it’s your fault that they yell at you in the street that they want to touch/lick/suck any of your genitals for wearing shorts in 40-degree heat, that if you’re traveling alone you’re “crazy” and it’s very likely something will happen to you, if they trampled upon your rights, you asked for it.
I ask you for myself and for all women who they have shut up, silenced, who shat on our life and dreams, to raise your voice. We will fight, I by your side in spirit, and I promise you that one day we will be many, that there will not be enough bags to keep us all quiet.
Ms Acostas poem asks the question, why do people always point the finger at the victim?.
We see this time and time again.
It’s scary being a woman and travelling alone.
Recently here in Samoa there have been murders, rapes and attacks on women – it has many of us afraid. Not only do locals warn about going out alone, the tourists are afraid, the backpackers become afraid when warned of local happenings – (escaped convicts seeming the norm) and this isn’t what we want here. Being anonymous and being about your business quietly has never happened for me here and I’ve asked many women their thoughts about their safety, some of the answers have been: “I always cross the street when I see men staring at me” - “I make sure I carry my keys just in case I need to fight” - “I wear my earphones, and listen to music so I can’t hear them calling me” - “I no longer make eye contact with men here”. These statements aren’t rare, all of the women I have spoken to have similar stories. “In my travels I have been to a fair few countries and men are the same everywhere, but here in Samoa, the cat calling is the worst. It’s intimidating and sometimes I don’t feel like going out at all” was another response that resonated with a bunch of women in a group chat about walking around in Apia.
One woman I spoke to who has been living here for a year has been flashed and masturbated in front of three times.
There has been a spate of responses to Guadalupe Acosta’s poem which she hashtagged #Viajosola (Spanish for: I travel alone).
Women all around the world are posting pics and stories of themselves travelling far and wide using this hashtag, it’s inspirational, it has us talking – there are many of us doing just that here – travelling alone. We shouldn’t be afraid, this is paradise in so many ways. I’ve been asked to say these words: Please men, stop scaring us. Yes, women are beautiful to look at, but we don’t need to be harassed by you letting us know that you think so. And please stop raping us and killing us, we are your sisters, mothers, wives and daughters – we feel together as a collective. It’s time to man up and stop with the harassment and objectification.
In saying all this, I’m going to keep hitch-hiking and living life as free as can be.