Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
I can feel him on my neck. If he were closer to me I could probably decipher what he has had to drink tonight, from this distance its a blur of cigarettes and Bushmills. After passing me coming out of the washroom, I’m thankful he has enough sense to choose a seat about four barstools to my left. I guess he doesn’t want to seem desperate. His gaze, which started at my face, have moved to my breasts and is now resting on my thighs and crossed legs. He is making no attempt to be tactful in his lust—his eyes have undressed me and I am sitting there, naked, focusing on my cocktail, trying to figure out the calorie content in an attempt to look occupied. He just ordered a drink, he’s British. I love accents but I must-not-look-at-him. I’m nervous. His stare is persistent and this may get ugly if I am alone.
Where is Eddie? We were supposed to meet here at the hotel bar before enjoying our last meal on this island. Why did I wear THIS dress? I need to stop re-enacting those film noir fantasies of mine while dressing up on vacation. I could be angry but these feelings of anxiety mixed with just being generally pissed are sadly familiar.
Shit. My little friend now has company, his older, balder twin. They really don’t think I speak English as his wingman is convincing him to try to talk to me in broken-Spanish. “See if she has a friend too” is the last thing I hear before I look up. I turn to the left and smile, and my European suitor looks encouraged and stands. I exhale a sigh of relief as I see Eddie walk up from behind him and give me a hug. In the loudest voice possible without looking crazy, I say “Thank God! Where were you? I’m soooo hungry,” in my most American accent ever. Usually I try not to draw attention to myself, but I really didn’t want to engage in a conversation with the Brit holiday-goer who wanted to get a taste of the “exotic.” No disrespect for the working girl, but I’m just not into giving a $5 blow-job while on vacation. I’m supposed to be relaxing.
Everything comes with a price. For me, the price I pay for being a globe-trotter, especially in the Caribbean, is that I am mistaken for a prostitute or “hook-up” girl at least once while on holiday. When it first happened, in Brasil, I was dumbfounded. I’m not the tight dress, fuck-me heels type (most of the time), I wear my hair in a natural style and tend to prefer stylish, yet easy fitting threads. What gives? I guess I fit the main criteria for a tropical prostitute: I am black, attractive and I am a woman…with all of her teeth.
Fast forward about five years and a well-traveled passport. Every stamp is a reminder of that Aussie, German, American or Canadian guy that tried to get in my pants. Most are subtle, a raised eyebrow, a crooked smile or a simple wave. Others are just creepy. The “undress with my eyes” gaze, or just an outright arm grab. This isn’t to say that their intentions are wrong since on every beach, in every bar, and just about everywhere there are girls who are more than willing to work it out for a nice international papi. A girl has the right to her life, so I won’t judge. But what happens when that world collides with my world? After all, I too, am on vacation but this wasn’t in the “traveling while black and pretty” manual. And to the chagrin of my would be suitors, I ruin the illusion. I am real.
I’m amazed at the the corrosion of social grace that happens when most men—and women—go on holiday. I doubt that the aforementioned Brit would be so forward at a pub back home. He wants to live dangerously. He wants something new, something dark and lovely. He wants to fuck me and then confide in his cubicle mate back home the following week over a happy-hour drink. When I put myself in the shoes of the woman he thinks I am, I wonder if he ever would really want to know my real name, my country or just play the game and then go to the pool. I see these men walk hand-in-hand with these beautiful women who are half their age, as if they own the world. His head is held up high and she just looks happy to be there because that’s what she’s being paid to do. It is a considerable fantasy, one that is readily available on just about every island you can think of. It is simply supply and demand.
I’ve learned how to deal with the gaze and the intentions behind it. If I am busy, I just ignore it. Or sometimes I have faced it head on, extending my hand with a clear “hello,” my forwardness guarantees shock. After all, I’m not supposed to be smart and pretty. I think that when I make it clear that I am not the one for any action, I am defending the honor of the next woman that they are going to approach. I hope that they will rethink their intentions, maybe take a genuine interest in her. Wait, who am I kidding? He’s got the cash and she’s got the time. I can’t be the a savior to all but I know my story isn’t unique. Honestly, I find it all amusing…even flattering in a twisted sense. This has happened to many of my friends as we are all interrupters of this not-so-secret world.
In the end, vacations are expensive so I just shake it off and keep it moving while reminding myself not to post up at hotel bars alone.
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