Skipping on Bos en Lommerplein market, I pick up one of the stray plastic bags, and begin scanning the ground for thrown away piece of fruit or vegetable from the market sellers.
"Gel, gel", I hear someone shout. I follow this call to come over in Turkish, but when addressing the man I keep it to Dutch, smiling. He puts a selection of courgettes, bell peppers, some cabagge and cauliflower onto the already emptied stand in front of him. Some are a bit rotten, but if I cook the vegetables today, they will be fine. "Look, ", he turns around and says in Turkish to his collegues, "she is going to take it, we do not have to throw this away!"
At the next stall, the young Egyptian lad who speaks no European language
gestures if I have a cigarette. I hand him one, in exchange for grapes,
grapes and more grapes. They are fresh and juicy.
Another day, slowly coasting down the avenue on my bike, I stop randomly at the bin in front of a Turkish grocer's. Lid up, head and arm in, hand dangling down to snatch at a few mushrooms, and a bell pepper. The grocer comes out. "What are you doing? Don't do this!" I sheepishly say that I am hungry, what can I do. "In this case, wait!" he admonishes me, and disappears inside the shop. Shortly after he comes back out with bags full of vegetables, bread. One bag full of grapes, which are in season now. He takes another bag and shovels apples into it straight from the shelf, amply. I have to ask him to stop. He does not. He ends up giving me loaves of fresh bread, a bag of courgettes, a bag of aubergine. All fresh. If he gave me, I would rejoiced and this would have been the beginning of one of those great skips that are founded on a personal relationship with the kind owner of a small shop. But here I feel put to shame! Since that day, I do not visit the same shop again. If I accidentally come near the shop when ambling around in the neighbourhood, I change pavements.
Once, at the bridge near our house, there is a Turk feeding
the bread he did not sell that day to the ducks. Tobbie and I ask for
two pieces, he first refuses, but ends up giving us two loaves and some
garlic and sweet potatoes. The fact that we asked for the bird food
makes him so pitiful he rummages in his bag to give us supermarket apple
cakes he probably just bought for himself. We refuse as heartily as we
can, but he does not accept our desperate "no's" and forces them on us.
Anyone who goes skipping has reams of stories like this to share. Let me state clearly, the positive experiences far outweigh the negative ones. But as a woman, some men will always find a way for making your life miserable.
Again at the market, this Tuesday, February the Fourteenth: "Here, you want these?", a kind man says and points me to a tied up bin bag. It turns out to be very heavy. It is full of tomatoes, some a little mushy, all still good. I will take as much as I can easily carry home and make tomato soup. While I am filling the shopping bag I brought, one of the other workers comes over. "You need something? You need something special?" Sounds like a dodgy way of asking, I just ignore the guy. "You have a boy-friend?"I tell him to leave me alone. I carry the bag of tomatoes away from him. He comes after me. As someone going through the rubbish, he sees in me a low class woman, open prey. "You need a boy-friend? You know someone who gives it to you in the night?" I tell him to fuck of. He leaves, but keeps on staring at me from where he is like I am an sub-human being; I am a woman.
I throw some of the most mushy of the tomatoes in his direction. I hit him, but no funny squirting of bright red juice over his face as I had hoped. My male companion that day has arrived on the scene. He was walking aroung on another part of the market, also looking for vegetables. "Hey ho, stop it!", he says to me, when he sees me throw food at others. I disobey, I throw another tomato. "If I punch you once you will lie on the ground. You know what that means?", the guy, who I m soon going to realize is not just "creepy", but outright sick in the head, proffers as an answer, approaching me. This is the most veiled of the rape threats he is going to make. I lunge out at him. He tries to punch me. Daniel rushes over, between us, holding us at arm's length. I have grabbed the guy's jacket by the collar; as I pull it tight I can see he is choking. Daniel stands between us, he is getting punched in the back, while he is trying to keep us apart. But he is looking in my direction. He cannot see that the guy is gagging behind him. He is almost turning blue. Daniel is in fact keeping us apart in a fashion that prevents the other reaching out to me, but I still have the man´s collar. Finally one of the other market workers comes and frees him.
"He is only using words; you should use words too", he shakes his head at me. Well that man did not understand my words at all. Making several explicit rape threats at me, and having punched Daniel pretty hard in the back (punches directed at my face), I consider this person to be a thoroughly disturbed and dangerous individual. I do not doubt that those who rape women walking in the cityparks at night, as happened to a girl I know in the Vondelpark in the summer, are men like him.
The other men around of course were decent human beings, who would never act this way, harass me just for being there. But will they make thsi explicit to him after I leave? It is extremely important that men communicate about these things.
No matter how much women will complain about sexual harassment (and worse things than " just" harassment), it is up to other men to make their stand, give their opinion to individuals like that man. After all, that person will not even listen to women, they are sub-humans to him.
I meant this to be a happy, easy-going post about stories collected from the skips. Then it became a post about sexual harassment.
Because if you are a woman, anything can become a post about sexual harassment.
February the 14th was made international day against violence against women.