In an earlier blog, I wrote about the defense mechanism I have unconsciously developed to address the unpredicatable "room raids" by KBR employees. I wanted to share with you another defense mechanism I have consciously implemented and it's one that is counter to my nature...the scowl.
As every woman who came before me, the male psyche is an arena where clearly the female rule book has no relevance. That being said, I have a difficult time understanding the transformation or perhaps regression, that men experience while away from civilization. Yes, I grant you they are not all lecherous brutes and many are quite gentlemanly and kind, but the leers, the raping with the eyes and from largely my own countrymen, is astounding. Is temprorary celibacy really enough to drive an intellectual being back to his stone age tendencies? Without an equal number of the female gender around do men suddenly become incapable of basic respect and dignity?
The leers, the unwelcome conversations, the little warning bell that goes off in every woman's head have led to The Scowl. If you know me outside of this enviornment you can attest that I am one of the most positive, cheerful people you'll ever meet and it is in my nature to greet everyone with a smile, to initiate conversation and to welcome new friends. Not in Iraq. Every public display when I am alone has to be one of total aloofness, disinterest and occasionally, radiating hostility. Now, if I am with another person, friend or colleague than the presence of that very person negates the need for this defense mechanism but if you are alone, The Scowl must be present to counteract unwanted advances, cat-calls, whistles, stalking, staring and pretty much all other forms of harassment.
I should explain that The Scowl is an all-encompassing tactic that unfortunately probably scares off some genuinely nice guys. On the other hand, most genuinely nice guys over here understand a woman's predicament and would not approach her in a threatening kind of way. I am always up to meet new people and make new friends, however, in Iraq that comes with strings and I don't necessarily mean sexual. I mean there are a lot of lonely, confused, unhappy people out here and as a young, blonde female, even the slightest flicker of benign interest signals to this lost fellow "companion", "mother", "wife", "sister", "girlfriend" and this can be exhuasting. They latch onto you like an orphaned puppy and soon they are writing you florid emails about their mistakes in life and coming to visit you in the office at all hours. It is a form of stalking I suppose, but in their minds and over here in the weirdness that is Iraq, it's largely disregarded.
I could regale you with the many tales of my "interactions" with men, but I'll let one from just last night suffice...I was on the bike at the gym at 3:30 in the morning and one of the KBR employees whom I had met in my first week and hadn't seen since, came over to chat. She asked how I was doing and then said "By the way, there's a guy that asks about you almost everyday on my shift" What the....? She continues "Yeah, I think he sent his friend over to ask you out that one time you came in on my shift? Anyways, he asked about you just yesterday. He's always asking if I've seen you. I remember him telling me 'Oh Michelle, Red Cross?! She's my soul mate." Errrr okay I've never exchanged one word with the guy, I don't even know what he looks like and apparently we are destined for each other. Fan-tas-tic, move over Michael Douglas. I told the KBR employee to tell him I went home and to get over it.
Again, I know I am an exception here; athletic, young, blonde but it can be so depressing having to ignore and downright avoid people and that stems from the fact that everything here is so EXTREME. You give a mouse a cookie and he'll want a glass of milk. You give a guy a small smile in greeting or a pleasant conversation in passing and all of a sudden you become his focus. Emotions and actions seem to be exacerbated and inflated by the environment here, the gender discrepancy, the violence, the lack of proper companionship, of proper sleep and of 15 month tours away from normalcy. It's sort of sad really, the guys I feel most comfortable with, the ones I would consider my "friends" are the ones on the other end of a telephone for a emergency message delivery or that I have a professional relationship with because there are implied boundaries. It is those boundaries that allow me to be myself and to show the happiness and positivity that I so want to display and share with others in the desolation.