Traveling By Myself.
I guess I'm trying to compensate for falling so far behind on publishing posts, so I'll attempt to write about something of substance. This will be able traveling by myself in Sri Lanka.
Even before I arrived here in Sri Lanka, I was warned again and again about the possibility and reality of sexual harassment as a women traveling alone. The early portion of ISLE was relatively easy, traveling in an airconditioned van with fellow americans with a director who spoke fluent Sinhala and English and all hotels and guesthouse prebooked. Now, already almost two weeks into independent study, I realized that I am still able to arrange things for myself. It involved learning the appropriate moments to put myself out there and ask for help and talk to strangers as well as the equally important times when I needed to be quiet and walk away.
My independent study site is located relatively close to a big Sri Lankan surfing hub, which I unfortunately don't have the abilities to appreciate. This makes my presence here a little less conspicuous as other places in Sri Lanka. However, I've had to take several day trips in and around the area, in addition to two weekend's worth of solo travel to different site visits. The last weekend in March, which also happened to be Easter Sunday weekend, I spent with a family in a small Christian fishing village south of Putulam on the island northwest coast. The following weekend, I traveled to Kotukal Lagoon, in Pottuvil, Ampara District, on the southeast coast of the island. Additionally, I travelled from Pottuvil to Colombo, the width of the island, in one day on public bus.
While on independent I have take several trips around the area to survey paddy fields and vegetable farms. I understand that I stick out tremendously and I usually don't even mind the stares I get. I can tell when I'm getting tired or hungry, because that's when I start getting annoyed at people. I have been very fortunate in that I have no experienced any serious sexual harassement. There have been several instances when I have heard men talking about me in Sinhala, but I prefer to just tell them off in almost perfect, Sinhala, or when I'm particularly tired, I'll swear at them in English...
I have also noticed that I receive more help when I'm traveling by myself. I try not to stand out and dress in normal, non showy clothing, but people here always think I'm lost. And I've noticed that it might play to my advantage to let people help me out. I try and listen to advice, especially with regard to travel and bus plans. The trick to this is asking as many different people as possible. I found that then you can take an tally of the several different answers that people give you (trust me, there will be several different answers) and then you get a pretty accurate picture of what's going on. So, I've learned not to be too terrified of strangers in bright, public places during the day. In my case, people are just too shocked to hear a sudu, white person, speaking Sinhala, they generally respect me. I've also found it's helpful to sit next to army officials, policemen, or women with children on public transportation, they will not mess with me.
I'm also learning to be a little bit more aggressive than I previously was. I remember before leaving for Sri Lanka that I told my brother I needed to practice my tough girl look for when I have to walk down the street. While this is somewhat necessary, the most trouble I have comes from 3-wheel drivers who want me to pay a fare to drive me somewhere I could probably easily walk to. These drivers are generally the only people I will attitude. And now I've learned that simply flicking my hand at them and telling them to get lost works wonders.
So overall this post was sufficiently random, but I hope it gives a little more insight into some of the things I've learned about traveling alone. For my next post, I'll try and talk about things that are specific to my independent study.