And if one day I must be dust, ashes, and nothing
let my night be a dawn,
let me know how to lose myself . . . to find myself . . .
– Florbela Espanca, Amar
If I am to die in a foreign land, I beg you – remember who I was – not a woman, not a man, but a human being whose rights were frightfully violated. Then, perhaps, all people will be equal.
If I am to die in a foreign land, I beg not to be victimized. I beg not to be diminished.
If I am to struggle through the end in pain, I beg not to be accused either: You brought it on yourself. You should have done what the others did.
In the desolate shadow of recent incidents in Ecuador, I wish to say clearly: I know where I go. I decide for myself. I assume the responsibility for my own safety, I cross the borders out of my own will.
I do not pretend the world is safe for women; oftentimes, it is not safe for anyone and not even your gender can protect you from the bad people, yes, people of all genders.
If you knew there were people who would cut your testicles and rape you until and after you bled out, would you cross Colombia out of your bucket list? And now that you know, will you stop using #colombiaespasión?
Remember the sweet, cooling breeze of the Caribbean coast, the salty and greasy fish, the roar of the jungle at dusk…I know you would still take the same path, that you would not forsake South America.
So, now that you are on the go, sunburn of Andes hurting your face, will you tell your sister to stay home? Because of the guerrilla, you know? And because, well, the passion and the violence and the drugs…will you, one day, tell your daughter she cannot live up to your adventures because she is not a son? I do not think so…
…not even your husband can protect you, no matter how desperately he would try. Whether you go home, pain in your curved back as you carry the bread and milk and computer, or you stand slack as you hitchhike by the road in Mexico. Husbands have bodies and throats and those can be cut, same as yours.
I hear them say: women this, women that – but we are not defined solely by our gender, none of us. We are musicians, writers, shop keepers, teachers, engineers, fortune tellers, junkies, we are lazy and hardworking, we are dark and ginger and come in all shapes and sizes and sometimes we are way too shy, we live in sewers and in mansions and in grey panel houses. What is it that unites us? Not the chance to get an education, far less the possibility to travel. But we are not looking for trouble. We think of violence when we dress in the morning.
If you wish to run with wolves, they say, you must learn to howl at the moon.
Be wild, they mean, but not too much, just for the photo.
They convinced you that you only live once and that is why you must run against the odds, take risks and live dangerously; but it was a lie and you should have known – you live so many lives, deep within your mind, hidden in darkness and never disclosed to your loved ones, and that is why you must run with the wolves every time the moon is up.
If I take a choice which leads me to agony, I still want you to be sure it was my choice. That I knew the world was more than my oyster to take and I knew there were bad people who might hurt me, but I chose to go in the open because my mother taught me the life cannot be lived behind bars, because I believe most of the people – men, women and everyone in between – will treat travelers with kindness.
If I am to be killed by the violence of the place I choose to travel, I ask not to be classified and put in a box, other than my coffin. Besides, the dead have no regrets, or do they?
Seeing this, everything is divine and holy.
The blues and weariness are gone,
the world isn’t the world: it’s a garden,
an open sky: infinite space.
– Florbela Espanca, IV.
Stray story seeker. Hungry hitchhiker. Wannabe polyglot. Aspiring travel writer. Currently bumming around in Georgia.
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