Peace Corps Writers
Self-Defense (page 2)

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     I leave them with promises to draw later and approach the home of my appointed father in the village. His truck is in the driveway, announcing his infrequent presence. In my ten months of residency, I have spoken with him maybe three times — more of a father figure than he’ll ever know. His caretaker, who becomes, by default, caretaker of me, greets me with her usual ebullience. We know only about six words of the language of the other, yet she is one of three women that I care about in the village.
     A young man is with her. The driver? The son? Even now, I don’t know. He is my height and is dressed in the typical “business casual” style that is the norm in this impoverished country. Chino-esque trousers may have tiny holes in them from being dried on barbed wire fences, but one can rest assured they are clean and pressed. Polished shoes point out from under the cuffs and care is taken to match the pants with just the right T-shirt emblazoned with the latest NGO slogan.
     The young man appears reserved as I stumble through the requisite question and answer session, “What’s my name? What’s my work? Am I married?” The answer to the last depends on my mood. Sometimes I scoff and make it clear that I would rather die than be married. Other times I am honest in my affirmative reply, though I never expand on the tumultuous details. My village, however, is aware of the saga. They heard the fighting. The woman in front of me now once had to physically separate myself and my husband. They all gathered in a circle to watch as he moved out.
     The young man speaks a bit of English, but I’m not in the mood to chat. I begin edging myself towards my house, trying to extricate myself from the situation. Before I am able to make my escape, he offers his hand. I hesitate. Too many times have I given my hand only to have it clasped so tightly that I am unable to pull away. One month or so previous, after an old man used this leverage to pull me in for a kiss, I vowed never again to surrender myself in such a way. This declaration had not yet been an issue as I could easily walk away from strangers in the street, not caring if I appeared rude. When do I not appear rude in this country? But this? This is home. This is family. I have to do this.
     I give him my hand, smiling, always managing to outwardly express my ingrained American fakery, “Nice to meet you! I’ve gotta run!” He grips my hand and I am enveloped in grease and heat. Dirty fingernails that have been God knows where glide across my skin. One phallic finger is freed from his hand and lecherously twists in a circle in my palm. I let my hand drop, stunned and sickened. This is a signal. A signal expressing his desire to let his dick do in another part of my body what his finger has done to my palm.
     It feels like he is now twisting in my stomach.
     I search the innocuous eyes of my caretaker. Her smile is unaltered. While energy and body language carry us through our daily interactions, the flames of rage radiating within me do not appear to singe her.
     There is nothing to say. I turn and walk the twenty feet to my front door. There are kids outside of my house. More than content to amuse themselves with a variety of songs and games when I am absent, my arrival always causes everything to come to a halt. They call out my name and various desires; crayons, chalk, jump-ropes. The days when I actually used to play with them have long since passed. Now I just toss out the play things and wait for the polite knocking on my door that indicates their return. Today, I can’t even manage that. Shaking my head, I storm past them. What must these people think of me? I pull the door closed behind me. Self-defense.
     I can still feel his finger. Wiping my hands on my canvas pants, I have an overpowering desire to rid myself of everything affiliated with the event that just occurred. I strip off my running clothes — why didn’t the stench dissuade him? I pull on loose-fitting sweat pants — my favorite jeans no longer fit; a roll of fat spills over the waist making them impossible to button. A baggy T-shirt, then an over-sized sweatshirt. A crocheted hat is pulled over my greasy, unwashed hair. There is a tiny mirror in my closet and I glimpse my reflection — blank eyes staring out of a pudgy face that looks as though a child formed it with play-doh.
     I don’t understand any of this. I’m so obviously undesirable, yet am constantly told how beautiful I am. I’m so rude, yet have never had anyone hold a grudge against me. My mood changes instantaneously, yet my explosions in anger do not cause people to write me off. Do these people have the innate ability to see through my self-defenses to the kind-hearted person that I pray to God has not been lost? Or does my white skin blind them from who I have become — a person that I find difficulty claiming.

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