This week I had some adorable messages from some of my old students who just discovered my blog. The fact that they were even reading it in the first place would have been heartwarming, but their messages melted and even slightly broke my cold British heart.
I received such an outpouring of concern about my post on sexual harassment in Colombia, students asking me why I hadn’t spoken to them about it, and wondering if they could have done anything to help me.
All of a sudden I felt awful that this was one of my top posts about Colombia, and I wanted to somehow justify writing about it.
Catcalling and the macho culture is something that I’ve laughed at on holidays to the Caribbean, and something I’ve always associated with that part of the world as an inevitable evil. Kind of like mosquitos and the shits. It wasn’t really a shock to me, and apart from that one near miss nothing terrible actually happened. It just wore me down after a while.
And I guess that’s what I wanted to draw attention to.
Would I have written about it if it weren’t for the #metoo movement? Probably not. Would I have written a similar article wherever I was living in the world at the time that it started trending? Definitely.
Working in the hospitality industry I have countless stories of men making me feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. While men in Colombia are very vocal and can be intimidating, I was never once groped in a club in a way that happens pretty much every time I go out-out in the UK. No one wanked at me, no one followed me home.
I’m aware of the danger of photoshopping my memories now that I’m a safe distance away. I was obviously writing from a place of anger and frustration, and now that has dimmed a bit with distance. I just wanted to say that while sexual harassment was a defining experience in my time in Colombia it definitely wasn’t the defining experience. It didn’t make me leave, and it definitely won’t stop me coming back.
My memories of Colombia are so much more than that. The smiling, supportive faces of my students who made every struggle seem worth it. The debates we would have during our break-time English clubs. The progress they made, their enthusiasm, their creativity, their jokes and their constant inquisitiveness are what defined my experience in Colombia. They made me feel so welcome and valued, no matter what I was struggling with in my personal life. These days, when they are joking around on the group chat, they seem more like my friends than students.
Writing this post, it’s just occurred to me that the fact that so many of my male students were concerned about my experiences shows that the #metoo or #yotambien movement is making a difference. I shouldn’t be trying to justify why I wrote the post in the first place or feeling guilty for perpetuating negative stereotypes. But I should definitely be proud of my students for entering such a mature and sensitive debate.