Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Journal diving for memories: Forgotten story of a sexist man and his life-saving pretzels

I'm in the midst of re-writing my stories from Kosovo, trying to tell a seamless travel memoir mixed with the stories of the people I encountered there, blended with the recent and ancient history.  Easy-peasey.  I'm also deep cleaning my files, shredding old bills and discovering bits and pieces of memories I'd forgotten.  Tucked into different journals or sometimes scribbled on an envelope, I'm trying to develop a filing system for these pieces, as well as let them do their trick of taking me back in time.

Reading an entry I began by simply stating "I miss Kosovo," I was reminded of an experience I'd completely forgotten, or blocked.  Thank god for my slightly insane diary habit.  "Before, I missed friends, but now I miss the place," I wrote.  "The streets.  Passing the internet cafe, the grocery store where few people speak English, and where I had my first experience being a woman in an Islamic country."

Kosovo is a nominally Muslim country.  Though people practice their faith, for many it is simply the culture in which they were raised, much like America's celebration of Christmas. The call to prayer doesn't stop or interrupt most daily life, but adds a distinct soundtrack to the days. Few women cover their heads.  Though there were definitive rules about the way I engaged with men and generally the role of women in domestic affairs, I didn't see too much of the sexist behavior the media often showcases in Islamic countries.

That is, until the day a woman clerk helped a man behind me in the market checkout line.  Because I didn't understand the language, I assumed he must have explained his hurry, his desperate need to step in front of me without even a nod of acknowledgment, so that he might rush home to his deaf, dumb and blind child and/or dying mother with their — what was he buying? — pretzels. His life-saving pretzels.

It wasn't until it happened a second time, standing in line with my Finnish friend who immediately growled about the frustration of it, that I recognized it was understood we should wait, because we were women.

It makes me growl remembering it, reliving it, writing about it here.  I'm also reminded of the brilliant satire from The Onion in honor of the author of "The Feminine Mystique."

I know my experience and feelings of outrage were just small ripples where other women are knocked over by waves of sexist behavior, trying to make them second-class citizens. Have you had such an experience?  How did you deal with it?

(Photo: The Onion)


Anonymous said...

I've certainly dealt with racist behavior. I believe what is frusrating is that people assume that they know everything about you simply by how you look. Ultimately, you have to let it go and move on but it is always aggravating.

I also wanted to wish you a very happy Thanksgiving. You always have such excellent and insightful posts here.

Rebecca Snavely said...

Thanks Des - I'm so glad to have found your blog as well. Have a great Thanksgiving and holiday weekend.

Anonymous said...

nice blog. though I can't understand the sexism story. that just sounds like strange behaviour. or you were hesitant so someone jumped the line. i am from kosovo and I have never experienced or heard of a case, when a man has priority to be served at the counter. ever. (in fact many men will give priority to women who are waiting)