Netherlands

Solo female travel and fighting off assault.

Each time I hear that women have turned up dead in a foreign land, I go numb. My motherly instinct kicks in and I desperately want to shelter them; gather them into my arms and comfort them. Be the superhero that appears, in the nick of time to rescue them. Like in the movies. But this is real life, where things are not scripted. Where there’s hardly a good ending, where many times it’s too late.

#Viajasolo

#Viajosola: The facebook post written from the perspective of two Argentinian female backpackers murdered in Equador.

I ask questions. I probe, I dig deep, read the news reports over and over, try to get more information. I hope to God that these women were not raped, and cringe when I find out they were. I weep when I find out they were bludgeoned to their last breath. I often wonder if there had been a chance for them to escape. If there were red flags they were oblivious to.

It’s frightening. Scary. Mostly because I am a woman. Who travels. Solo.

In a boat on the Indian Ocean, Mogadishu.

In a boat on the Indian Ocean, Mogadishu.

There have been times I have arrived at a destination too late. There are times I have arrived too early. Most of these times, I have mulled around stations, and airports; in safety, waiting for daybreak, and for places to open up again. The risqué factor is ever present for a lady sojourner.

I must say that I have been attacked. I know what it feels like to be attacked, to have someone violently attempt to take advantage of my femineness; groping and touching without consent. My consent.

But I also know what it feels like to fight back. To come out shaken to the core, but triumphant..and alive. I pray I will never experience what it feels like to be on the losing side of an assault. So as a solo traveler I may sometimes act totally paranoid; it’s my defense mechanism. I have ruled out hitch-hiking, for the simple reason that I can’t visualize myself jumping out of a moving car, if the driver decides to leer at me, assault or invade my privacy. I rarely feel comfortable with couch-surfing, and must admit I have never done it. I have been more comfortable as an Airbnb host. I’m on my turf. Thankfully, I have had very courteous and well-behaved guests, and never felt I was in danger opening up my apartment to them.

Exhausted from Paris trip

Post-Paris trip, waiting for the eurolines bus to take us back to the Netherlands.

The attack.

Years back, in Amsterdam Bijlmer I accepted an invite from a house-mate to go clubbing. Four of us girls shared an apartment, she didn’t invite the other two. We went together. I felt out of place for the most part; clubbing has never been my thing..and a few hours later; with the smell of smoke, perfume and sweat in the stuffy club clinging onto our jackets; weary at having spent the night on our feet, we stood outside waiting for a cab. It was daybreak. Time to go home. She didn’t tell me I would have to return home alone. She opted to follow her boyfriend to his place. So I jumped into a cab and got to my apartment block. Alone.

Apartment blocks, Bijlmer Amsterdam

Apartment blocks, Bijlmer Amsterdam

As soon as I got to the lift, there was a man waiting. I had seen him getting out of his cab moments before, at the parking lot. I thought nothing of it. I had seen him at the club, causing scenes with ladies. It was clear he lived in the tall apartment block. His eyes were glazed. I could tell he had one too many, but I remember he had a nice grey sweater on, and a scar on his cheek. He looked decent and clean, like someone who paid attention to himself. He was of a dark chocolate complexion; African like me.

He asked what floor I would get off at, like any respectable man would. Ladies first.

He pressed his floor first..7, then abruptly recalled that he was alighting at the same floor as I was. 5th floor.
When I exited the lift, he exited as well..and begun to ask me hurried questions, stalling my departure from the hallway to the entry of my apartment, his glazed glare making him look quite creepy. I wondered why he was asking questions, and didn’t notice that with each query he took a step closer.

He grabbed my wrist, and couldn’t let go. He told me what he wanted to do to me in a menacing vulgar way. I was alarmed. I tried to release his firm grip, and pushed him away. We both lost our balance in the struggle and landed on the cold hard cement floor, my hair-clip somewhat cushioning my head from a fatality. Him ontop of me.

It’s funny and yet strange, that at a time you are down on the floor, his body pressed against yours, his fingers fidgeting with your trouser button, a conversation begins. A frantic conversation. In your head.

“God, I can’t believe this is happening! This is not happening.” I silently cried out.

“You have two choices; either you lie there doing nothing or you choose to fight!” The clear and authoritative voice spoke in my mind.
“I choose to fight!” I responded with urgency.
An image flooded into my mind. A past Oprah talk show I had watched, about rape and how to fight back. I needed something to hit this guy with, but all I could see was a pile of old newspapers, and they were a few meters away.

The second image flashed as quickly as the first.
River Tana, Kenya. Crocodiles. I had read somewhere that when villagers are fetching water and they are attacked, they are advised to go for the eyes, hit the croc hard in the sockets, and the huge reptile will let go.

A crocodile at Tana River in Kenya. (Photo credit: Micheal Mutai, News)

A crocodile at Tana River in Kenya. (Photo credit: Micheal Mutai, News).

I went for his face and eyes with my hands. I fought back with every strength I could muster even as I was pinned down, crushed under his weight. I felt layers of his skin gather beneath my nails, as I scraped lines across his face, mouth and eyes..I clawed him ferociously like an angry wild cat.

“Now scream as loud as you can!” The voice commanded.

I screamed my loudest, “Help me, Help! Somebody help me!!! Help help! Jesus!!!!

“Shhh! Stop screaming!” I remember the guy pleading.

I shouted even louder. He cupped my mouth with his hand. I turned my head from left to right, shaking his hand off, then opened my jaws widely and clamped down mercilessly with force. He let out a loud howl. I could taste saltiness and blood, but I continued to snap at his hand.
I felt I was weakening and wondered how long I would have to fight.
The guy suddenly shifted his weight off me, rolled off and crawled to his feet. He took off, bolting in fright down the staircase, like a battalion of soldiers was after him.

I sat upright on the floor, and heard myself scream continuously. I was in shock and my mouth had run ahead of my mind. It felt incredibly surreal. My hair clip was at the far end, my jacket partially ripped and a couple of buttons were on the ground. I cried out again, then composed myself and took the lift down to the ground floor, opened the door and screamed into the dark night. No one responded, every apartment had its lights out, my voice echoed back to me, an empty hollow sound.

I took the lift back to fifth floor, and went into my shared apartment. I remember feeling like I had to shower. Wash off the odours, as if to make the experience vanish. When I spat into the sink, I was spitting blood. I looked at my face in the mirror. I had slit my lip and broken some nails. I called 112 and reported the incident. Five minutes later two police vans arrived, with a mix of male and female police.

They brought me to the police station to report the incident. It was a long process, filing a report there, then being brought to the victims office, where the skin under my nails was carefully collected for DNA evidence. When I was calm, and the adrenalin had worn off, I had horrible headaches, my neck and shoulder throbbed painfully.

There followed a year-long psychiatric treatment. They said they had to treat me for post-traumatic stress disorder. The hardest part of the treatment was relaying the events of that day to the psychiatric..again and again and again, eyes tight shut…each time I turned up for an appointment.

I’m sure it helped me somewhat, but even now, I’m super-alert to my surroundings. Any time of day I enter a lift with a guy, my hands are in my pocket, a fist clenched and another firmly holding my set of keys ready to fight. In gatherings or outings, I prefer not to drink.  Anytime I see a group of guys in the shadow of darkness, I prefer to cross to the other side, keep my distance.

I love to travel, and will travel..most times solo..but will avoid any situations that will pose a danger to me.

#Viajosola

18 replies »

  1. Oh my God!what a horrible and frightening experience it must have been 😦 . I am so sorry this happened and it is very brave of you to post this. I am sure it will help other girls in similar situation. The flight or fight syndrome is very real. I always picture myself freezing when bad things happen, and believe it or not..l train my thoughts daily into making sure l fight, even in my thoughts. I am so glad you escaped with your life. That is the most important thing, and that you don’t let it stop you. You win! 🙂

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    • It was very frightening, and traumatic as well! I’m so aware of my surroundings and oftentimes a wee bit paranoid, but after such an experience, you don’t leave anything to chance. I’m glad to have escaped with my life, and I’m glad for the clear thought process during the attack, and that I managed to fight back. Seeing guys in the distance when it’s evening time freaks me out, I have to cross the street and be as far as possible from them as I always think if more than one person attacks me, it would be more difficult to defend myself. But for the love of travel, I continue to go to new lands, and apply wisdom wherever I am! Thanks for commenting Kemkem!

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  2. Wowza!
    I read this in awe. I’m glad you fought back and give him just a small amount of what he deserved!

    Traveling solo is interesting even for males. But certainly not as dangerous as it is for females though.

    Agreed that you can’t let this stop you from traveling, you just have to be even more cautious. Listen to your heart…

    Did they ever catch the guy?

    *warm hugs*

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  3. Thanks Kerwin! It’s an experience I certainly wouldn’t want to go through again. I moved from the apartment block shortly after the incident, so I’m not sure if they ever caught him..though when the police arrived, I had expected them to knock on every door and search the apartments, but that would have been looking for a needle in a haystack and they were keen on getting me to record a statement then.
    I’m super-alert now when I’m out traveling and it’s getting dark, sometimes to a point of paranoia..but my globe trotting will continue.

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  4. What an awful frightening thing to happen to you. I can’t even imagine what you must have been feeling at the time. I’m so glad that you were able to fight with all your strength and determination. I’m still shivering as I write this. 😦

    We girls always have to be careful and like yourself, I travelled solo for years and even though I’m married and I have a family, I still do so, a few times a year!
    p.s. You’re a brave and courageous woman and long may it remain so. Keep on travelling my sister! 🙂

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    • Thank you British Berliner! It was a dreadful experience and though it was in the past, I felt all the emotions of that period come up again, even as I penned down the post. I hope it encouraged solo women travelers out there that they can defend themselves if something like this happens, and for them to know they can take precautionary measures as the world out there can sometimes be unkind. We continue to travel nevertheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. The experience you had sounds extremely frightening. I think as solo female travelers we know that dangers exist however I think we don’t really consider what we would do if these situations occured to us. Thank you for being brave enough to share your story as this really made me think about how I would react in a situation where my life was endangered.

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  6. Wow, what a frightening experience. I’m glad you fought back and made it away safely. As hard as I’m sure it was to write this story and relive those awful events, it will help some woman in the same predicament. It’s a testament to your strength and courage, and a reminder that good can conquer evil. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Thanks Michelle. I thought I would never share my experience to the world but the attacks on women are growing, so I might as well share and let women out there know that fighting back is a possibility, and they can come out of such an experience alive!

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  7. Wow, this is horrifying. I’m so sorry you had to go through this; it gives me chills to think about what you must have gone through during and after your attack. Thank you for sharing your story; it really drives home the dangers we face as females but also how we can possibly handle those types of situations.

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  8. Thanks so much for sharing your story! I hope you never have to deal with it again, but yes, eyes are always the best target! I always clench my longest key in a fist between my fingers when I’m walking alone at night. If anyone were to try to accost me (god forbid) im driving it straight to the back of their skull!

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  9. Good work Africanahgirl, The reason why most people never get away with such cases is because they never pause a bit to think of a way out, most panic failing to engage their wits, thank God you were luck. Thanks for the share!

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