My first bad experience while hitchhiking
I have been travelling and #hitchhiking for a while now. Nothing bad had ever happened to me on my travels. Until recently.
The story I want to tell now affected me (surprisingly) quite a bit. And even though it happened four weeks ago, I notice now, in this very moment, that my heart rate is again slightly increasing thinking about it. Okay, now it is back to normal again. Overall, the incident and the repercussions are not so bad that I would not want to share it publicly. I thought about posting it anonymously. But I sort of feel this is a part of the picture of my hitchhiking experiences and it is maybe also good to not only share all the fun stuff. The emotions and the thoughts it created and what I learned or realized makes me want to share this experience. I might feel like putting in some humour, not sure whether it is to show (or pretend) how okay I am with the situation now or just to make the read a bit more enjoyable for you.
I was hitchhiking from Sofia (Bulgaria) to Serres (Greece). The third car dropped me off somewhere in Bulgaria close to the boarder to Greece. Two men picked me up. Both around 50, from Greece. I was very excited to finally have some Greek drivers to practice my Greek. (Not so relevant: I wrote another blog post, explaining why I love language learning and hitchhiking.) We talked a bit and I was happy to apply some Greek. They told me they were on a Sunday leisure trip to Bulgaria just for some food and now they were going back to Serres (to where I was heading). They mentioned that they'd like to make a stop at some thermal bath here in Bulgaria and asked whether I would mind? For me this was cool. A direct ride to Serres and even checking out some chilled thermal bath in between. Cool. We entered the bath – they paid the 1 Leva entrance fee for me. It was not one of these natural outdoor thermals, but more like a tiny public bath with one small pool and some showers, both with mineral water. Some locals were also in the bath. There was a big room with some cabins to change. The driver directly went into one to undress. I was briefly hesitating thinking about my valuables and where to put them. So it might have taken me some 30 seconds until I also chose one of the (many) free cabins. I was wondering why the other guy was also still standing there. I put my stuff somewhere, hung my towel and started undressing. The other guy, maybe from now on I will just call him asshole, also came into my cabin. I was maybe wondering a bit for what reason he didn't pick one for himself, but the cabin was quite big so I didn't mind. And didn't think about it any more. Maybe here I have to mention that I don't mind nudity. I mean it is a public thermal bath. Most people are naked there. So I also don't care about another naked person in my cabin. We both got undressed. I was picking up my towel and things. At some point, we were both naked, the asshole pretended to reach somewhere (there was nothing to reach for) and (sightly) touched my penis accompanied with a weird grin and a slight giggly sound. I immediately said “Stamata!” (Stop it!). Then I didn't say anything else and went to the hot pool. I noticed that I immediately got really angry. I don't think people could see. But it was this inner anger. Thoughts were racing through my head. While I was in the pool or basically the whole time I was tracking the assholes every movement. When he entered the pool (a bit after me) he sat next to me. Not very close, and without the previous incident I probably wouldn't have bothered. But it made me feel uncomfortable. So I moved somewhere else. I wasn't afraid of the guy. Maybe it was naive but he wasn't really frightening. There were also some local people in the bath. I guess that made me not feel unsafe. The hot water was amazing, but I couldn't enjoy it at all. It was a weird feeling. A (theoretically) really nice physical sensation. Yet the anger and all the thoughts were just focused on that asshole, so my body couldn't relax and enjoy. I was thinking a lot about a close friend of mine who has had bad experiences being harassed by men. I showered and left to wait for the others outside. I decided to still take the ride to Serres. It didn't seem like a dangerous situation. Again I am not sure whether I was naive there but that was the feeling I had. Back in the car the level of anger towards the asshole didn't fall. I remembered how this friend of mine didn't manage to say anything in some bad situations. And that she wished she had. Some people she then confronted (long) afterwards. With others she never had the chance. Maybe influenced by that, but also maybe not, I wanted him to know that he cannot do something like that. I want him to know how I feel. I had 30 minutes in the car to decide what to do. I was considering just asking him right there in the car what he was thinking and why he did it. But I noticed I want to feel completely safe first. So I waited until they dropped me off at a bus station. There were one or two people around. I unloaded my stuff and then I very nicely said goodbye to the driver (he didn't notice what happened). When the asshole reached out his hand to say goodbye I just said or shouted “Fuck you!”. Maybe four times. And then I shouted something like “Why did you touch my penis?” (Which is a weird sentence to shout, say or write.) The asshole was startled, but didn't say anything. The driver realized that something must have happened but also didn't say anything. Both got into the car, possibly accompanied by some more “Fuck you!“s from my side, and drove off. I was quite agitated. My couchsurfing host called me and said he is nearby and would pick me up in a bit. I sat and started texting that friend. My thumbs were shaking, I couldn't really type. I generally felt strange, overwhelmed. Then I cried a bit. Some minutes later I got picked up. I briefly explained my new host why I was a bit in tears and what has happened. He was kind and supportive, without actually saying very much. Five minutes later he brought me to another friend of his and I had dinner with a Greek family. A whole new situation so I pushed that experience away and switched to socializing.
Not sure whether it was necessary to mention all those details, but well, I wanted to describe the situation as it was. Now I want to talk a bit more about how I felt. And what I was thinking.
Most of the time I wasn't really sure why (for what specific reason) the whole incident affected me so much. I was thinking whether it was because for the first time I had a glimpse of what other people might have felt in much worse situations. Mine wasn't that severe after all. At least this is how it feels now for me. What other people go through in this patriarch society must be much worse. Maybe I was also angry because it was during hitchhiking and I don't like the idea of having a bad hitchhiking experience. Telling everyone that among the probably 1000 drivers I had nothing bad has happened. (Of course something similar could have happened in a different situation. But it didn't.) But probably it affected me exactly for what has happened. Because some asshole took me by surprise and touched me without my consent. I didn't expect it at all. Me, a person who is rather someone who is thinking about the worst-case-scenario first (not necessarily caring so much about it then). Through my latest experiences in anarchist, leftist or whatever circles I was made well aware of my privileges. I learnt to reflect a lot about those privileges. Being a white, male and hetero (for now) I sort of felt like I am unharassable (I know the word doesn't exist, neither does the concept). I never felt like a potential target. It hit me so much by surprise. Although of course, if I think about it in the retrospective: I was naked in a cabin, with a guy I just met 30 minutes ago. And this leads me to the next thought I had. Back then, for a brief while, my thoughts were going in the direction of: “Did I send the wrong vibes? Because I didn't object when he entered my cabin?” I quickly noticed this was a first step in direction of victim blaming. That I was sort of trying to find excuses for his behaviour. Also in the car I had a lot of time for various thoughts, all of them revolving around what just happened. Some of them were as sinister as: “I wouldn't care if he died right now.” Then I was thinking this is a bit too strong of a reaction, but well I had it. Another thing I want to mention is my reaction. I remember when talking to the above mentioned friend of mine, that she said it was a “good” reaction that I shouted at him to make him (and his friend – that really was important to me) know that something wrong has happened. But briefly after saying that, she sort of took it back. She said evaluating it as “good” to shout and express your anger can support the idea of it being bad if people don't express their anger. But people shouldn't feel bad about that. Because there are various reasons to not want (or not be able) to have such an intense reaction. And a victim of harassment does not have the obligation or responsibility for a specific reaction. I remember that, initially I felt weak because I just said “Stop!” nothing else. And if I wouldn't have had another 30 minutes to think and plan in the car I might have not said anything else.
Anyhow, I don't feel like I have anything more to say, or at least the thoughts are not really developed or coherent. But all of this affected me much stronger than I thought it would. I talked with many people about it. But thinking about to what extent and frequency other people are affected by this kind of behaviour makes me really sad. And angry.
I didn't stop hitchhiking because of that experience. The next few rides I were as much fun as usual.
Ah maybe a more happy thing to add: The host who picked me up is now a friend. I spent two weeks at his place and in the end he decided to do his first big hitchhiking tour and he hitchhiked (not all the way) to France to see his partner. Even though the first hitchhiking story he heard from me was about a rather unpleasant experience.