You’re a woman protective of your body, and it’s hard to know where boundaries end and racism begins. Lean too far to the boundaries, and your metal claws are out, scratching up against what may well just be cultural misunderstandings. Lean too far to the politically correct, and you may well get touched more than you want to. Ali drove us back to the train station, suddenly generous in the morning, touching my hair, my thigh, my shoulder, as he laughed about setting me up with his Palestinian nephews, repeating the question twice when I replied that, no, I wasn’t a lesbian. I am the most open person in the Middle East, he laughed, you can tell me anything, and instead of releasing my shoulders, I tensed. I especially have a weakness for beautiful young ladies, he said, and in the silence I figured I needed to say something. I giggled a short snort and said, most people do. He slapped the steering wheel and lowered the radio volume, sure, he said, but once you move in married circles, certain things place boundaries in your behavior that you want. I wanted to tell myself it is just the language barrier, that the man who so kindly taught me Arabic last night and argued politics with me that morning was just being friendly, wasjust trying to explain himself, that I was completely overreacting by feeling threatened here in the front seat of his white battered Accent between Sachnin and Karmiel. The hills wererocky at window-level. I should never have worn that dress. I would never have considered it scandalous – it covers my knees and wrists – but maybe he’d misunderstood me. Halas. I tucked my feet under the seat, slapped my boundaries upside the head and waited for the next green sign indicating our distance to Karmiel.
for the first time: i am late in this unexpected sunday traffic, and directing a cab lost in the city to my grandparent’s house. pulling past the pond at the top of the street i see a gold mercedes idling on the far corner, coin-bright and waiting patiently. my exclamation halts the cab and i skip across the street, to where they wait my grandparents, placidly all dressed up from sunday church. she is crocheting, he is napping, doors open to the bright expectation of an afternoon grandchild.
nervously for me as they explain the shape the feel of the box that i will tick in that booth, illiterate as i am and powerfully exerting my rights. pulling into a busy carpark my arm to steady grandma’s steps up the building, please make way on that railing you are leaning against she supports it so, and inside. i fake it to make it, recognising my registration number and not my name, navgating bemused and terrified in front of my proud forebearers. i look so foreign, to the amusement of the thai audience— look at her she has a citizenship card too. okay my make X is made, the red box i am aiming for unmistakable. well guided, grandpa. i am a new immigrant, i am a freed slave, i am connecting across time to this experience of officialdom and uncertainty and hesistant footing in a new country.
in the forest i didn’t drink whisky, feeling the weight of a full company of men i sat primly, envying the smooth liquor generating cheer across the space of the hut and trees. even i started in surprise when a bottle came my way, missing the offer of a drink to my astonishment when i learnt it was all okay to drink in this thai culture didn’t i know?
sometime moments i froze in those first two weeks like when Jane asked “what are you, a feminist” and i suppressed my reaction of arent you to smile awkwardly, and when Dave at the edge of a gave of gin rummy in the forest he said “well feminism is obsolete” and Nucha, who refers to me as a feminist always says things like “of course you intend to work, you are a feminist”. the spectre of this f-word rises everywhere i go and while i embrace the fierceness of this fight i don’t know what to do here, where native american in thai is literally “red indian” so that is what it is in english too, and how do you explain p.c.?
at work they make sure to write “gender inclusive” on the large posterboard bound for austria, because Westerners love that stuff, and i found myself arguing for inclusivity because our work cuts across national-ethnic-economic boundaries to all stratas of humans, as we all are too.