Freedom of Speech?

I often debate how much I should reveal of myself.

Here, especially.

In the states, what I say is dependent upon my comfort. Here, it’s also dependent upon my safety.

So where do I draw the line?

Because here’s the thing: I’m on very shaky ground here. I need friends, and I can’t afford to make enemies. But I can’t live with myself if I don’t stand up for myself. If I’m disrespected, and I don’t say something about it, I feel like a coward (and I continue to be disrespected). But if I do say something, I often make an enemy.

People here have such extreme views. And although we could be friends, if I disagree with them on that crucial issue, we’re done.

And yet, it has happened twice that I’ve voiced my opinion on one of these issues, and I’ve discovered a kindred spirit. If I’m too quiet about myself, then I may miss out on good friendships.

So, there’s that.

And then there are the topics that I am confident I will not discuss, like being Jewish. But although I won’t discuss it, it’s still insanely difficult not to say anything when Israel pops up in conversation. People either assume that because I’m American, I love Israel. Or they assume I’m Christian, and thus believe that I dislike Jews. So what do I say?

Or if some guy on the street creeps on me, how do I act? Do I 1) avoid eye contact and ignore them, or do I 2) turn, flip them off, and tell them kis emek! ? I was in the bazaar today buying pomegranates, and found myself walking behind 4 guys who would blatantly turn around, check me out up and down, and then turn to their friend and talk about me. So I compromised by flipping them off Italian-style and cursing at them in English. So I got my anger out, and they didn’t retaliate (Kurdish men have serious tempers). But I still feel like a coward for not telling them, in a language they could understand, to go stuff it.

Do I keep diplomatic ties open? Or stand up for myself?

That is to say –

How much should I?


P.S. Your opinions on this matter would be very welcome.

3 thoughts on “Freedom of Speech?

  1. We spend much time here in my ESL program talking about intercultural communication, so your post struck home. I’m heading to Costa Rica for two months of teaching English, so I’m actively thinking about the questions you pose, though my situation there will me much, much easier and less strange than yours. Still, I prefer to err on the side of caution when I am abroad. It is, after all, their country, so I’d rather listen and nod than offer my views. How do Kurdish women tell guys in the bazaar that they are acting like assholes? European women have the chilly silence down to a fine art, but American women are more likely to take some of the measures you describe. I will let an anti-Semite rave on, without ever admitting that I am Jewish, but only when I’m in a foreign country. One of the greatest joys when abroad, however, is to discover a kindred spirit in a place you didn’t expect to find one. That speaks in favor of at least telegraphing your beliefs to those who might be able to read the code.

    And one more thing; I love reading your blog!

  2. Hey Rachel!
    I’m catching up on your blog and after living a year in Guatemala, this definitely hit home for me as well. in terms of friends and revealing your background/religiousity in a land strewn with religious tensions, I hope that’s going better… it’s such a hard one. I just always unveil little by little as my relationship grows. Few people abroad (or here, for that matter) know, or need to know my whole story.

    In terms of guys on the street, we all (the other three girls who worked at my school) dealt with it differently. One would tell them in Spanish everything dehumanizing they were doing and to knock it off. It didn’t work, and actually got her in a fair amount of trouble. Another friend hid under a hood and didn’t say anything, just walked away. She avoided at all costs to engage in conversation… which was okay, but being blond, she was harassed ALL the time. Another flirted back and that scared them off… mostly. I usually stuck to the ignoring and brief answers if necessary and that seemed pretty safe. Once I lost it and cussed them out in English and ran… they chased so I ducked into a neighbors’ house to hide. I don’t recommend running 🙂

    Take care of yourself and don’t forget how much you are loved and missed by all of us at Whitman and in the US!

    1. They chased you?! Wow. It’s been uncomfortable, but I’m getting used to the constant stares by men. I’m blue-eyed, and here I’m blonde (I’m definitely rubia in a society where everyone has black hair and brown eyes).

      The situation I’m running into now is that I understand the Kurdish that the men are using. Since I’m white, they think I can’t understand Kurdish. Which is logical, because I can count on half a hand the number of expats who know some Kurdish. But since the men don’t think I understand them, they just follow me and talk to their other male friends about me in Kurdish.

      And since they’re not bothering to address me, their comments are even more vile than I originally thought. I’m tempted to just turn around and say, “Ayba” (For shame). But, after all, they want to get a rise out of me, that’s why they’re doing what they’re doing.

      It’s a no-win situation. I stand up for myself, I give them what they want. I ignore them, and I tacitly permit them to continue their behavior.

      The only thing for it is to recognize how pathetic their behavior is, and how it truly has nothing to do with me.

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