Here’s the thing people won’t tell you about travel: it is difficult.
If you’re on your own, that’s one obstacle. If you’re a woman, that’s another. If you’re a woman of color on your own, well, you might just want to stop and reconsider this whole “adventure” thing.
At least, that’s what I was thinking as I sat in the back of a musty Uber at 10:36 p.m. on a Friday where nothing had gone as planned. Against the backdrop of the humid night, a foreign city stared back at me through the car windows, seeming to challenge me as the roads stretched on. I tightened my grip on my phone, tried to still my nervous heartbeat, and told myself that I had wanted to do this.
It started with my summer internship in San Francisco — which in itself was already testing the limits of dorming life for my parents. See, in the community that I grew up in, it is not common to send your daughters to college out of state, and even less so to agreeing to letting them spend nine weeks in a place a whole time zone away.
I remember while growing up I’d vow to see the world one day, and often, my statements would be met with teasing comments that I would need to wait until I married and got a husband to travel with. Before I started college, several members of our neighborhood community came to my father and advised him against sending me so far from home — to which my father evenly replied: “She can do this, insha’Allah — God-willing.”
If it was a question of my abilities to go out into the world, my parents have no doubts. They know me, but they also know the world, and it’s a place that can be harsh and cruel, having no qualms about hurting even the most prepared of those who pass through it. Every uncle and aunty, family members, and acquaintances, know of this same world, if only because they’ve experienced the worst of it in their home countries and even here — let’s not pretend the United States is any better to women, their bodies or their rights.
Any woman on her own is vulnerable — for a hijab-wearing woman like myself, I understand the fear. I see why it might be “safer” for me to have a male companion to dissuade leering eyes and aggressive harassment. It’s a twisted thing, but that’s how society works for women.
But I could not deny the sense of wanderlust that brought me to San Francisco last summer — this burning desire to see new places and meet new people. Itchy feet had me heading to the West Coast, and that same invisible pull convinced me to check out Los Angeles while I was there.
And it was at that point that everything caught up to me with an abrupt vengeance, reminding me that I am in fact, not invincible.
Irony would have it that five minutes after my plane landed, I was abandoned by my traveling companion. I should clarify this was a guy acquaintance from my internship cohort, which should render all arguments for the security of male companionship moot. With a sudden farewell, I was on my own in a city I’ve never been in at night time no less, with the skies black and getting darker with every minute that ticked by.
There were no limos or luxury accommodations — in the throng of sweaty and impatient people crowding near the airport entrances and trying to get home, there wasn’t a friendly place in sight. For perspective, I’ll share that the rest of the weekend followed the same theme, concluding finally with a broken down bus engine on the way back that delayed my return home to an unfortunately late time given I still had work the same morning.
Without a doubt, it was one of the scarier and more difficult experiences I’ve had to deal with so far. But I don’t find myself regretting the trip, rather I look back on the weekend with appreciation for the victory of being an individual traveler who managed to hold my own.
I confess that I have not yet shared the grittier details of this story with my parents, and I imagine many daughters hold a similar silence for the harder experiences they encounter. Not because we don’t want to share our lives with our mothers and fathers, but because we know they would worry and their first instinct is to protect. There needs to come a moment however, where our parents have to trust us, not a future man or some male guardian, but us, as people who can go out into that big, scary world and not only survive it, but thrive through the challenges and tribulations that come with it.
I know there are no promises for safety: Your daughters may get hurt, we may feel pain and be struck with grief, exposed to all the terrible things you’ve always wanted to shield us from — but we will hold close to these moments of vulnerability and rise with them. Believe in us, that’s the only strength we need.
Tajrean Rahman ’20, is a concentrator in History and Science in Currier House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.