So that’s what it means to be a young woman travelling alone.
This morning, I was woken up by a maid, around 9:30. That’s not bad. What upset me was the reason she did it: some guy, Roonie, was calling upon me. And no, Roonie wasn’t my latest « one night stand », far from it. He was the guy I had met yesterday about sunset, on the road above my hostel.
I had just reached the main road, emerging from the hill’s hidden path, when this guy stopped on his scooter. He asked where I was going, I said I was just walking around, which was true. Most guys on scooters here are eager to offer a ride for 5 to 10 000 rupiahs, so I wasn’t at all put off by this situation.
He offered to take me to the beach, and since I hadn’t found a beach and that would be the perfect spot to enjoy twilight, I agreed. Once again, no red flags there, since our numerous discussions with Julie, the backpacking girl who had completed a world tour, and Harold, our french guide on the cruise, had let me believe that this is a perfectly normal behaviour to have.
The conversation I had with Roonie was also very normal: where are you from, how long are you staying, bla bla bla… Although perfectly casual, I refrained myself from sharing any specific details in our exchanges, save for the irrelevant facts like: yes, I came here to dive, but, I can’t go because my ear’s infected.
But « I don’t know how long I’m staying » (seven days, not another one), « I don’t know what I’m going to do » (find myself a tour inland), « Yes, I already have a room booked » (did NOT specify where, for the record).
Prudent behaviour, even before anything felt awry. The collaterals of growing up as a girl.
He took me to the harbour, downtown, through the fish market, and it was a very enjoyable moment, to be driving through the warm air of the beautiful afternoon, coming to an end. At the harbour, the conversation started to get creepy, as I gathered from his poor english that he was more or less offering me to stay forever in Flores, that he would welcome me in his family, he wanted to show me his village, and so on.
Sensing it was time we parted ways, I told him I was looking for a bar to sit and work (again, plain truth there). I let him drive me a little further to the TreeTop, which turned out the be exactly my kind of place, where tourist AND indonesian folks come to hang out (save for the food, where nothing vegan was particularly enticing, most of my choices being of european inspiration).
I told him I needed to work and said good bye, but he stuck around for a drink (not at my table, as I had made perfectly clear that I was busy. Again, nothing but the truth). It’s when he moved to another table, to bother another single lady, and that she told him off quite plainly that I realised my « nice guy » was not at all that nice, and that it probably wasn’t the cultural differences or the language barrier that made it hard for me to make myself clear: he just wasn’t listening.
But he did go, trying to make an appointment the next day, so I told him no, because I don’t know what I’m doing, and with my sick ear, I’m not making any plans. But this is a small town, so we might run into each other again, and let me get the drink, as a thank you for the ride and the tour.
He left. I thought I had adopted the best possible behaviour in this situation. I was courteous the whole way through, but firm, and I had kept the upper hand at every moment.
Yes, he had been a little too insistent to stay after I had told him good bye now, but I’ve had to shake off worse stalkers in my days. All in all, nothing happened.
Until this morning.
« Excuse me to wake you up, sorry to bother you… There’s a guy, Roonie, asking for you »
What the what? How did he find my hotel? How did he know to ask for ME? Yes I told him my first name but that’s hard enough to remember, let along to repeat it and for someone to understand it.
I told the maid I didn’t know that guy, he just gave me a ride yesterday, and no, I’m not coming out, I’m sleeping… And I’m sick! I showed her the ear drops I had put it 2 hours before (then fell asleep again).
She went away, I turned to sleep again, but a couple minutes later, she was back, with another member of the staff (a guy), AND ROONIE.
So I told him off very bluntly this time, adding that I AM SICK I’m not going anywhere with him, and please LEAVE ME NOW I’m SLEEPING.
But now he knows he’s got the right place, he even knows which tent I live in. Oh yeah, A TENT. No door I can lock, not a single door between the road, the entrance of the hostel, the terrace, then the tents, then MY TENT. You can just walk in. For 100 000Rp a night, what to expect?!
I call it the safety tax. It sums up all the expenses a woman has to make, that a man doesn’t need to. That a man doesn’t even think about, because it is completely unheard of. Men can be stalked by someone they know, but very, very very rarely by a complete stranger.
I’ve already scouted another place, much fancier, much more expensive (probably over double what I’m paying here — update: seven times what I was paying then), but with doors that can close, and staff members to prevent strangers from entering the facility.
I don’t want to move out, because I like this place better, I certainly don’t want to spend more money to be downtown, living above a fancy and very western restaurant/bar. But should Roonie pay me another visit here, I just might have to leave.
Now two details in this story are infuriating me. The first, is how hard it was for me to recount precisely my own behaviour of last night. Thinking back, I could just point out the many moments when « I led him on ». I should have said « no » firmer. I should have stopped hanging out with him straight from the harbour. I shouldn’t have bought him the drink. I shouldn’t have accepted the ride in the first place…
Yes, it’s MY behaviour that I’ve been reviewing critically. It’s ME I blame for what happened. It’s MYSELF I doubt when I questioned the way I refused his proposals. Not firmly enough? Not clearly enough? Not enough.
But in the end, it’s HIS behaviour that’s the problem. Not the way I have been reacting to it. How many times will I have to write it, to repeat it, for it to stick: you’re not responsible if you’re being stalked. Being courteous and polite isn’t a problem. Abusing this courtesy and ignoring a polite but unequivocally firm « no » is the problem.
I’m not responsible, but I’m still paying the consequences. And that’s the second infuriating detail of the story: I’m the one who’ll have to move out of this place if he comes back.
— UPDATE —
Now it’s half past six, and I’ve just enjoyed a beautiful sunset from the very well oriented terrace of the Paradise Bar. I took a scooter ride there (5 000Rp), and Magnus, my danish friend met on the cruise, joined me for a drink.
We are leaving tomorrow at 7am on a shuttle bus to Ruteng (3-4 hours drive), where we will find a room for the night, and spend the day visiting around Cancar. On Sunday, we depart for Wae Rebo, a traditional village where we will most likely spend the night.
Monday, we make our way from Wae Rebo to Bajawa, find a place for the night then enjoy the sights. Tuesday, we’ll reach Moni through Ende, and organise our sunrise trek on the Kelimutu mountain.
Wednesday morning, if everything goes according to plans, we’ll watch the sun rise over the three lakes. I fly back to Labuan Bajo thursday at 7am, go straight to my doctor for our seven day check up, and probably spend another night in town, before boarding a ferry to Bira the following day, or catching a flight to Java as soon as possible.
Sounds like a plan. One that will keep me busy in the best way possible for the next six days. One that takes good care of my stalker problem.
One that does not feel the least like a contingency, but much rather like a perfect plan. Even though we’ll likely improvise most of it as we go.
I guess you could call it tax evasion.