It’s midday and I’m walking towards downtown Manzini, Swaziland. It’s so hot and dry that I feel like I’m inside an oven.
As I cross the street, a man dressed in a trench coat appears out of nowhere and starts walking beside me. I immediately shudder. It doesn’t take me long to remember that I’m living in a country where rape, HIV and AIDS are rampant. Everyday since I’ve been in this country I’ve heard stories about terrible things that have happened to people, particularly to females. My next thought is “how do I get rid of the stranger?” By “rid” I mean how do I make him go away without crossing him. I know full well that it´s not safe to walk alone after dark, but in the middle of the day? It definitely isn’t a good idea to pay attention to this man even in broad daylight, let alone try my humanitarian (the reason I was in Swaziland in the first place) skills on him because I’m by myself. My only chance of pulling myself out of this situation is to scope it out. Plus, he was wearing a trench coat at noon on one of the hottest days of the year.
The mysterious trench coat man doesn’t show signs of giving up on pursuing me. He’s mumbling, more to himself than to me. I make out some phrases, “I’ll stay with you for 2 years, at least…”. Has he mistaken me for someone he recognizes? He’s starting to make me nervous so I tell him that he needs to leave me alone. He refuses. The fact that he’s persistent is building me up with fury. “No” means “no”.
I decide to go into a shopping mall, confident that he will disappear, but this plan fails. So now I’m hoping that by entering the grocery store in the mall, the sight of people will scare him away. Doesn’t work either. Everyone is staring at us while this persistent stranger follows me all throughout the store, while I pick up items to buy, while I wait in line to pay, after I pay, and even after I leave the grocery store. I didn’t think the situation would go this far. “Why isn’t anyone doing anything to help me?” I think. I hope they don’t think I know this person.
I’m outside again, and I spot the building where I work, but I decide it wouldn’t be wise to enter there because it’s Saturday and no one is working. I turn to trench coat man and threaten to call the police. He doesn’t budge and replies “Go ahead, call the police”. What the…? Is he challenging me? His resistance to my very firm expressed wishes is making me angrier and angrier. How DARE he doesn’t give me my Canadian definition of “space” which I call my privacy (about metre radius of space around me)?
Instead of feeling powerless, I feel empowered to do something. Feeling smothered, angry and overwhelmed by his unwanted presence, I actually fear what I might do to this guy. The thought of physically harming this guy runs through my mind. Lucky for the guy, I don’t make a rash decision. I see my friends’ shop a few meters away and, I slightly speed up my walk over there. Trench coat guy asks me, nonplussed, why I’m walking so “briskly”, that I shouldn’t be afraid of him. Annoyed at his perplexed behaviour, I tell him that it’s HIM who should be afraid…of me.
My friends see me from indoors looking panic-stricken and bounce to their feet at once and I blurt out that this guy has been following me for a very long time. They don’t let me down and come to my rescue. The second my feet touch the floor of the shop, with the mysterious guy right behind me, I run all the way to the back of the store for refuge because I can’t take any of this anymore. I hear my friends running after trench coat man in the background. I never saw him again.
Fortunately (for him) I did not stumble upon trench coat man again during the rest of my stay in Southern Africa, which back was in 2007.
Featured image courtesy of Yousif Malibiran.
Signing off –