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Going Home

I am sitting in the Frankfurt airport right now waiting to board my flight to Boston. There is certainly a lot to say as my time in Ethiopia ends, but I won’t be saying much of it right now since I have about ten minutes until my flight boards.

I do have time to say this: being a Peacebuilder Fellow in Ethiopia has been the most rewarding work I have ever done. I was endlessly frustrated by many things while living and traveling in Ethiopia, but the work itself was nothing short of inspiring. Almost every organization and individual we contacted went out of their way to help us and led us to amazing stories of the struggles and progress surrounding water in Ethiopia. I would typically feel an incredible sense of exhaustion before our meetings, primarily stemming from the dread of dealing with the transportation system in Addis and elsewhere. But I would leave each meeting with a smile on my face. We spoke to aid workers, academics, government officials, teachers, engineers, farmers, community leaders, and generally concerned citizens, and all of them had something important to say. Even after meeting dozens of individuals over two months, we were still learning many new things at our meetings towards the end. There was simply no shortage of new issues and new perspectives on old issues, all of which were incredibly valuable.

Now I’m going home. I can’t pretend to be sad about that fact in general, but I am sad that my time collecting stories has ended. Fortunately, over the coming weeks I will get to reflect on the many stories we did gather as Katie and I work on creating our final products.

Blue Nile Falls

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My Veggie Dilemma

 

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Interview 3 with community leaders on a farm on the Akaki river

 

Three weeks ago was day 3 for interviews. A lovely and generously new friend offered to take us to the Akaki river, just outside of Addis. She has recently finished her MA and her focus of study was the water quality of the Akaki river. This river has vegetable farmers on it and it is well known for producing veggies that are contaminated with bacteria. Many Addis residents ask their vegetable stand vendors where they get their vegetables to make sure they do not buy from this area.

 

 

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Farmers on their beautiful land

 

The vegetables contain bacteria because of the river water the farmers use to irrigate. When Phoenix and I learned of this story, we knew we had to follow it. So off we went to find these farmers. Our friend led the way by organizing the hired car (free from forenji price!). What was suppose to be a 30 min drive turned into 2 hours (thank you Addis traffic), but we eventually made it to our destination. We found a patch of land along the river and asked around until we found some farmers. We arrived just in time because the majority of farmers were finishing their daily work on the communal land and headed back home to work on their own plots. We were greeted with open arms and the farmers spoke very freely with us about the water, their farming and their practices. They offered for us to take some pictures and then the rest were on their way. Two agreed for an interview and they were wonderfully impressive people: very educated on their situation and the quality of the water. I will skip the majority of the content of the interview as a teaser to keep following our work, but I want to say that they are convinced that the quality of the product is okay.

 

Fast forward a few minutes, and Phoenix, our friend and I are down at the farm to see the irrigation and the river. The hospitable people that they are, our hosts sent us home with a bushel of carrots and a couple cabbages. Their season is almost at an end and they are preparing for the rainy season to flood their field, so this was an incredibly generous offer as they gave us some of the last of their crops.

 

Here is a picture of the infamous water that the people of Addis are so afraid of, and here is a picture of the farmers rinsing carrots with said water. Here is a picture of me with my bounty.

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Akaki River

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Preparing for market

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Me with a bunch of carrots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The rest of the day was wonderful and the traffic heading back was not as bad. Phoenix and I left our guide and our new driver friends with plans on how to cook up our goodies that evening. I have a carrot dish I really like making and we were going to pair it with a stir-fry (we are missing soy sauce a bit). Seven pm rolled around and I had soaked the veggies and was ready to start cooking. My roommate came in to chat, and when she saw these soaking veggies she asked if I wanted to treat them. She told me that there was a river around here that veggies come from and because there was so much bacteria in the river and veggies, we should always treat veggies with a chlorine or bleach solution just in case they are from that area. After an inner debate with myself, I decided to tell her that these veggies were from that very place she had heard of. She paused, looked at me like I was crazy, and then said “Well, yeah… use that then,” pointing to the cleaning chemical.

 

I take issue with chemicals going into my body, so I can’t really douse veggies in bleach or chlorine; it just makes no sense to me. Yet, as Phoenix and I discussed dinner plans, we also thought about the chemicals that were possibly in our friends’ gift. Moral dilemma: eat the veggies and prove to Addis that, as the farmers had said, these vegetables were fine for consumption, or stick to my chemical-free veggie regimen. I thought about the food we could make, the pictures I could show, and maybe even the ad campaign we could produce for these struggling farmers to help win their business back. After about 30 minutes of weighing the pros and cons about eating these things we decided to air on the side of caution and not eat them. New moral dilemma: I hate wasting food. I tried to feed these things to the dogs (sorry that was probably a mean thing to do); they didn’t want them. So I decided to compost them. Now, we don’t have a compost pile, but we have a pile of dirt in the back yard. I tossed the veggies there thinking they would do the soil good as they compost. I walked away thinking the best possible outcome was complete. I turned back and saw the veggies sitting there looking sad and wasted. I was embarrassed to have my roommates see these things and think I am wasteful or insensitive to those who are hungry around me. I saw a shovel lying on the ground, and I did what was needed, I buried them so they would mock me no more. The veggies now lie buried in my yard. I am sorry vegetables, I am sorry farmers, I am sorry Addis consumers. I, like the rest of Addis, could not risk my stomach’s happiness on these items. I wanted to prove the system wrong, but instead realized a new direction for my indignation over the farmer’s injustice.  I want to advocate for these farmers to get access to get to their very easily accessible ground water. It is under there, and they just need money and your support to get to it. With this water they can sell to consumers who will no longer be wary of how the fields are irrigated or the vegetables washed. With this clean water, we can all eat stir-fries without hesitation.

A clean water well is under this mound of dirt but  is too expensive for the farmers to access

A clean water well is under this mound of dirt but is too expensive for the farmers to access

An organization called Acord has been working with this group of farmers on diversifying their farming during the rainy months, providing advocacy trainings and also supplying some equipment. The farmers informed us that, Acord is working on raising the money needed to access this ground well for the irrigation of their crops. If you would like to donate to this cause you can visit the Accord site here. I want to shine a small light on the situation these men and women face without clean water. They want to sell a good product yet there is not much they can do about the quality of the river. My hope that no more veggies need to be buried and their clean water well can be uncovered soon.

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My bounty now in the backyard

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My contribution to water shortage, its contamination and its waste.

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Roughly two weeks ago we traveled Northwest to the state of Jalisco to capture the stories of communities facing different battles over water. We met a family who stands tall in the face of giants, corporate and governmental. Indomitable, they’ve chosen to make a life out of their fight to help keep their local river clean. We also met members of a small village whose land stands in the way of a lofty water deal for the local government. The women we spoke to showed us that unity and courage are their weapons of choice in their fight to save their homes, the homes that have been in their families for generations.

Though the stories came from different people, from the North of Mexico to the South, of different ages and with different experiences, their struggle, their fight, resonates with me. So I ask myself, “Why have I been so disconnected from all this?”

Before becoming a Peacebuilder I never thought about water. I never felt deprived of it: never have I turned on the knob in a shower wondering if there’d be water for my use, not to mention hot water. I never felt the fear of getting sick from it: never have I thought twice about whether the tall glass of water I drink after a workout is safe to drink, or if the water I use when opening the faucet to wash my hands might give me a rash or cause cancer. I’ve never even thought about recycling it: I don’t save the water after washing dishes or taking a bath, to wash clothes or mop. I’ve always simply had water. So I never thought about my need for it, about it’s place in my everyday life.

As a human rights advocate, I’m use to thinking about problems in terms of people and the deprivation of some right. Of a protagonist and an antagonist. Someone to defend and someone to blame. But when it comes to water, there is no single victim. No single perpetrator. There is no living thing on earth that can survive without it, and because of it, water is itself an entity. A fundamental building block for life. Yet, millions don’t have access to clean drinking water, thousands of children die daily around the world from contaminated water, and still globally governments are planning to privatize it.

Now, after weeks of researching water issues in Mexico and listening to the water stories affecting entire communities, I realize I’ve played a part in all this. I’ve contributed to its scarcity, its contamination, its waste and its disproportionate supply. Whether it’s because I’ve paid little to no attention to water regulation in the past, take 30-minute showers, fail to participate in water preservation programs, or throw away that not quite empty water bottle that’s been sitting in the car for a month, every misuse and inattentive behavior adds-up. For 28 years, I’ve been ignorant of this. Now is my time to stop contributing to the bad and to make a difference for the good. To make the small changes that can affect myself and many others for generations to come.

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Jalisco, I love you

Nature is life and water is life. That can perfectly summarize our trip to Jalisco this past week. It was a long journey by bus, but it was worth it. Within this trip I have seen myself as a real researcher and listening to all the stories individuals told us made me feel for the first time in my life like a peacebuilder, a real and a helpful peacebuilder.

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Our journey started with a 7 hour bus travel from DF to Guadalajara. We spent our first 3 days in El Salto, gathering a hard water conflict story involving threats, health problems and water pollution in River Santiago.

 

Then We spent a day in Guadalajara talking to people from Temacapulin, wich is a small village where government and companies want to build a huge water dam, which in fact would destroy their homes and community because the village is located exactly where the dam is thought to be built.

 

Early in the morning, we took another bus to get to Villaguerrero, Jessica’s father’s and family’s hometown. I really fell in love with this village. In fact, I have one new dream in my life: I am going to safe 150,000 euro, buy a 3000 square metres Rancho, a house and a horse in Villaguerrero. hehehe. All of you will be welcome to try tequila and walk through the magnificient lands and mountains surrounding the area. When we walk through the Rancho I could not avoid thinking of Amy and the stories she had told me about Colorado, she would have loved this place, I wished she had come with us.

 

This picture I took in the Rancho perfectly illustrates my feelings of peace and happiness there:

 

Love the nature, love the food, love the people, love the place... What else do I need?

Love the nature, love the food, love the people, love the place… What else do I need?

 

Jessica and I will be writing more details about our experience in Jalisco. I can say it has been an amazing trip, which has given me a new way of understanding people and a different view from the world surrounding us.

Jalisco, I love you and I promise I will come back.

 

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SWEEPING GESTURES

Cramming my backpack for the last time on these soils, puts me in a reflective mood:

1)   Ripe clothing? Check! (With thanks to my daughters who shared their laundry tips with me: “If it can’t yet totally stand up on its own, and if you don’t see people risking their lives in the street to avoid having to pass you on the sidewalk, its probably good for at least one more wearing.”)

2)   Video cuts, photographs and shorthand notes? (Why do I always find myself apologizing for using words and images that many of you won’t understand?) Check!

3)   Spanish language primers? (For all the good they did me!) Check!

4)   Lucky talismans from friends around the World ?(Ainhoa, I’ll be darned if I can figure out which direction is lucky for the “heads” on the Basque Lauburu! That it comes from you, I’ll take as good luck, no matter which direction they are facing.) Check!

5)   Pumped up kicks? Check!IMG_0922

But wait! There’s something, here, tucked into the recesses of my pack! I draw it out reverently, with faint memory of having put it there. It’s that lofty title “Peacebuilder Fellow to Mexico (short term).” Hmmm. I touch it softly, exploring its contours, saying its name out loud to see if it sounds any different than it did when I put it there, lifetimes ago.  Some of the dust and glitter drop to the floor by my feet, but it feels the same as it rolls off my tongue: Still a little frightening—still extraordinarily unattainable. I tuck it back in deep as a kind of time capsule, wondering if one day I might be worthy of it.

Well then! Guess that’s it! I’ll sweep the floor, shut off the light, heft the pack and, with a final flourish, stride boldly across this last threshold . . .

NO BULL!

NO BULL!

 Hasta la vista, Mexico!

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DEAR DIARY . . .

DSCN0852As this particular quest nears its end for me, it is far too easy to slip backwards down a channel of despair and resignation—the ultimate toilet bowl swirl. (Is anyone else detecting a theme here?)

The struggles continue as they have since the Spanish conquistadores first landed in the 1500’s. The land theft and the hijacking of rights that provoked social revolution leaders like Emiliano Zapata in the late 1800’s to call for a return of the land and water expropriated from those with nothing left, repeat like a needle stuck in a single groove as the record spins ‘round. . . .and ‘round . . .and ‘round, with a dizzying fatalism. (Apologies to those of you who have no idea what that means.)DSCN0866

Today as I was saying my goodbyes to the people and places who have defined home for me these last several weeks, I wandered into a scene where a major thoroughfare was cordoned off by policemen and soldiers. A group of protestors filled the street, raising their voices and banners in front of the human rights office. I stealthed some photos and tried to get some of the protestors to talk to me about the issue du jour, but they only glanced up suspiciously, hurrying to scuttle away. (Have I mentioned that it is a bit difficult for me to blend in?)

It appeared that the protest had something to do with a demand for respect and a request for acknowledgement of right to property and political access. In the faces of the people there, I saw the features and intrinsic pride of an ancestry predating Zapata, whose ghost seemed to haunt the scene in palpable frustration.

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Circling back to the beginning of this piece, I have to say that it would be easy enough to chalk this tragic story up to “Human Nature,” shrug my shoulders and walk away, expecting that “as it began, so shall it end.” But there is something about the resilience of these beautiful people, and the commitment of my fellow fellows spread across the World, and one kick-ass development professor, that won’t let me do that. In the words of Paolo Coelho in The Alchemist:

 “And, when you can’t go back, you have to worry only about the best way of moving forward.”

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What rolls downhill, and rhymes with . . . ?

Every picture tells a story . . . .a picture’s worth a thousand words . . . . (Relax!  This is not about to become a graphic for the title of this piece.)DSCN0637

When I shared with you the picture of the missing man, it was because it symbolized, for me, empty spaces occupied by gossamer hopes and spider webs of distant struggle—the echo of voices rarely heard above the rush of water, as it is pushed by screaming turbines up and over mountaintops and pounding out through rocky precipices hundreds of kilometers away.

For me, it was the perfect metaphor for the stories I have been told by and about those who are excluded from effective participation in political processes that have direct and  dire impacts on their access to “sufficient, safe, accessible and affordable water”— recently called out by the international community as a basic human right. Duh! [Sure, we can “survive” without money, clothes or internet—well, maybe NOT without internet– -but, without water? . . . anybody?)

 

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While legislators, with undoubtedly noble intentions, pass laws to expedite the implementation of water projects designed to prop up failing economies and persist in issuing edicts that demand that those further down the food chain comply with unachievable standards, subsistence farmers till the soils as criminals, and resource-starved municipalities quietly pass their byproducts merrily merrily down the stream.

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Though I have become almost immune to the waft of human waste, mixed with more than a hint of Smells-Subtly-Like-Springtime laundry detergent, I can’t imagine that it is healthy or sustainable for the community through which it passes. It makes me wonder at what point this effluent will back up to the top of the hill, toward the lofty towers of the politically affluent. Perhaps, with this eau de reality unfurling in their nostrils, they will be compelled to adopt more ingenious, practical and sustainable solutions to address these persistent human rights issues. I can’t help but think it true that we all really DO live downstream!

 

 

 

 

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After Myanmar

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Since the return there have been three presentations sharing the stories of brothers and sisters in Myanmar.

People are shocked by how hard it has been for the people. It is difficult to truly convey the magnitude of water conflict. It is even harder to convey the way our actions here affect everyone else.  The one world perspective.

It is hard to convey the stories of hope and possibility in amongst such massive challenges.

People are caught up with their own  problems of working and providing for their families . It is hard to explain that the level of poverty  is such that even those struggling here are still rich in comparison.

Those from earthquake disaster torn Christchurch are overwhelmed as they come through their own stories of upheaval and survival. They can’t imagine what living through another disaster of such magnitude would be like. Actually its worse than that. They can imagine it and the pain overwhelms them.

In some ways the story is too powerful for people to feel that they can make a difference.

But we can, each choice we make has an effect.

I guess all we can do is make a start. Any start. And start again each day.

We can reduce the consumption and waste in our own lives. We learn to open our field of concern and ‘give a little’. We can pay attention to what the politicians are doing and vote well.

It is a collective responsibility and call for a change in the way that human beings live and the connect to each other and the planet.

I don’t think we  have seen something so big.

We could make a difference if we were willing to focus our efforts differently. If we truly understood the effect of poverty on the planet and the way we  wage war on each other directly and indirectly.

The ultimate violence of our practices of over consumption and waste. The way we have developed global systems that value  hoarding and wealth creation.

What I learnt in Myanmar is that when people come together and are empowered to take governance from external actors then they can make a difference.

Communities can create changes. People together make change.

With vision and cooperation and some redistribution of money and resources it is possible.

It is a massive change in mind set and practices. Within myself I learnt that our survival as a species will depend on it.

The scope of this is beyond an academic conference. Talking and creating change makers is a practical process…. triggering guilt does not create change….I hope the conference platform for the peoples stories will have practical outlets…. in the givealittle.com kind of way.

I would like o thank Pushpa for her vision in sparking this pilot Peace builders program. I am grateful that I was chosen to participate.

Have I become a peace builder? The changes are still emerging.

My instinct is that we can all be peace builders wherever we find ourselves.

 

 

 

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Trying to keep fit and healthy

Since I started Law School I knew I wanted to dedicate my career to travel and work in developing countries. Apart from your professional or academic skills, I believe keeping your mind and body strong is a key fact to perform a successful mission. This thought came to my mind again when I got sick because of the altitude and had to go to the hospital. I felt pretty weak for some days, but then, decided to put an end to it. 2014-07-06 13.17.05

That’s why I dediced to start doing some exercise in the mornings. These last weeks I have joined Amy and Jessica in our morning walk + healthy breakfast around Viveros de Coyoacan, one of the lungs of the city.

It is amazing how your body and mind get full of energy after a walk through the park. You can see people who are totally strangers getting together to form a group and do different kind of exercises. Childs, youngsters, elderly people … Everyone gets their piece of nature here. In fact, if you go on the weekend you will almost have to queue for a walk as it is crowded.

2014-07-06 13.17.15Viveros is a great opportunity to escape from the smokes and extreme pollution of the city. I really feel I can breathe fresh and clean air when I get there. Also, it is a good place to keep your mind in peace. I mean, sometimes we have to deal with uncomfortable security situations, watch real poverty just next to the richest ones, feel how women are not properly respected in some cases and, of course, be aware of corruption issues in the country. It is important to stop and take a breath once in a while.

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You’re saying it’s my duty to respond to a complete stranger because they find me attractive?

This past Saturday, I had a peculiar encounter with two men on the metro. I was on my way to see a friend, it was a sunny day and we’ve had few of them lately so I wanted to be out to soak up the sunshine. I boarded the train and sat in one of a few empty seats. There were men and women with children. I sat on a corner seat near the door for a quicker exit, with my earphones on as usual, taking in the tunes and staring at the emptiness passing by outside the train.

There was a man standing in front of the doors to my immediate right who looked as if he was waiting to exit the train. I saw him lean towards me saying something, I looked up at him, pulled out my right earphone and looked at him asking to repeat himself. “Is this train going towards barranca del muerto? I just want to check I’m heading in the right direction.” I nodded and responded, “yes,” putting my earphone back in its place. A few seconds passed and again he leaned over mouthing something. I glared straight ahead as if I had not heard him, but he continued and leaned closer, so again I pulled my earphone out with a look of inquiry. “…Are you heading home from work? Tired much?” is all I could make out. I smirked, “I’m actually headed to see my boyfriend,” to which he nodded in acknowledgment, returning to his place, standing tall in front of the door without any further questions. He got off two stations later.

A guy sitting immediately to my left had been glaring at me since I’d sat down. He witnessed what happened, and after the man standing in front of the door had exited the car, he laughed and said “you cut him off.” I had my earphones on with music still playing and ignored his comment. He then tapped me on my shoulder to repeat himself. I took my left earphone out with a look of inquiry and he repeated himself, “you cut him off.” I smirked in acknowledgement of his comment and placed my earphone back in my ear, observing the little girl and her mother sitting directly in front of me. I sat tall with a stern look on my face, thinking to myself, “if I look bothered or annoyed when he tries to talk to me, will he get the point?” the answer was no. The music playing in my earphones was loud, but he chose to ignore it and continued speaking, though all I made out was gestures and not a word of what he was trying to say. I rolled my eyes and stared ahead, calm and collected enjoying my playlist, but he continued.

I took my earphone out, let out a deep sigh of annoyance and turned over to him. “What’s wrong why can’t you just say hi, I already heard you have a boyfriend, no big deal, soon you’ll get off the train and I’ll never see you again” he said. “Right,” I acknowledged, “but what if I don’t want to have a conversation with you?” “I’m just being friendly, trying to talk to someone on the train, what’s wrong with that?” he replied. “That’s fine and all, but some people, like myself (I emphasized), just want to take a train ride from point A to point B, thinking about the things they want to think about, listening to music and keeping to themselves,” I tried to reason. “Where are you from? what do you do?” he inquired. “I really don’t feel like being interviewed,” I responded with an assertive tone. “But you’re in a world full of people, who want to interact, and I’m just being a gentleman trying to strike up a conversation, it would be rude of you to ignore me,” he responded.

Something inside me went off on hearing his misuse of the word “gentleman.” I thought about moving to another seat, but I wasn’t intimidated and the last thing I wanted was for him to think he could move me. Calmly, but quite annoyed I stared straight into the mother’s eyes who’d sat across from me all this time, responding to him, “what makes you think that I am rude for not responding, as opposed to you who are trying very hard to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger who is making it clear they do not wish to speak to you?” He paused for a few seconds, attempting to formulate a response. The mother stared at me with a slight smirk on her face.

With an air of accomplishment he responded slowly, as if the words coming from his mouth were spoken just as soon as he thought of each and every one of them, “You’re an attractive female, on a train full of people. There are going to be men who want to speak to you. You cannot be rude and just ignore them.” Time seemed to slow as he uttered these words, and in my mind, “Whaaaaat? Is this really happening? Did he just say that? What year is it?” Calling on all of my patience and serenity, I laughed.

I stared at him, confusion in my eyes and my mouth wide open as if staring at some unconscionable phenomenon. I then glared across at the child playing wistfully, her mother intent on our conversation. Slowly enunciating each and every word I said, “You’re saying it’s my duty to respond to a complete stranger because they find me attractive?” I paused, “That makes no sense … I owe you nothing, I owe all others who may think they have the right to a response, absolutely nothing … are you understanding me? … Nothing,” I repeated as the train pulled into my station. He blurted something out, but I’d tuned him out, aware of his determined ignorance.

I turned to him, smiled and said “have a nice day.” I walked out of the train laughing lightly. All I could think to do was laugh at the situation, though inside I was mad and shocked at the same time.

Daily I feel the gaze of men as I walk along the street or on public transportation. It’s very uncomfortable. To have someone say what this man said to me on the train was astonishing, but I almost wish I could have had more time to reason with him, to make him see it is not ok to put that burden on me of having to answer to anyone just because they believe I should, be I female or attravice, or both. He seemed so convinced of what he said. He genuinely believed that I was rude, and not he for pushing me to converse with him. It makes me wonder how the women he encounters in daily life deal with it, do they ignore him? do they fall for it? How did he ever come to believe he is entitled to a response? How many others like him are there? And, how many others like me?

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