Fast Car: Why I’m Taking The Streets

I had always felt strong; I had never let anyone force me into something I didn’t want to do. I refused to be submissive to the social rules and expectations from an early age and I definitely wouldn’t have expected to react this way. I was 18 years old. I had recently moved back to Lebanon. I was eager to get my driver’s license and so I went to an instructor to learn how to drive manually. I wanted to do it the “right way”. He told me I needed two weeks of practice before the driving test. The first few days were very exciting and empowering. I had always wanted to drive, and driving was somehow associated with freedom. Owning a car adds independence to your life and gives you a feeling of security. At least, that is how I perceived it.  After one week of practice, my instructor had to leave and appointed me to his brother instead.  In the first two days of the second week, I was mostly driving around Beirut. The instructor was very proud of me, complimenting me on every turn and every stop. I felt proud as well but a little uncomfortable. After one week and three days, I was driving so well that he asked me to take to the highway.

On the highway, singing “Fast Car” in my head, he decided to take my hand off the gear and put it on his leg. I rapidly removed it and placed it back on the gear. He took it again and this time placed it on his erect penis and told me I shouldn’t get used to driving while my hand is on the gear, even though I was driving a stick shift. I felt petrified. I thought of stopping and getting out and running away. I thought of what was going to happen next. But all I did was stay focused on the road and then removed my hand politely, yes without a word, and drove the car with both hands. I came back home and I didn’t talk to anyone about it, not even to myself. I wanted to erase it from my memory. The next day, I was supposed to see him again. You would think that after what happened, I would have refused to. I didn’t. Maybe it’s because I didn’t want to explain to my parents why I wanted to stop. Maybe it’s because I denied it so strongly that I reached I point I convinced myself that I was exaggerating and he was just being nice. And so I went. After a couple of hours of driving, he asked me to park near the beach. I, naively, thought he was teaching me to park the car. And so I did. I parked the car and he lit a cigarette and started asking me questions about my personal life. I hastily told him I was in a serious relationship and so he replied: “How far have you and your boyfriend gone? You are saying that you know him for a long time now, I’m sure you did a lot of things.” “I didn’t get your question” was all I could say. I turned on the car and told him that my parents were waiting for me at home and that I had to go. When I got home, this time, I did think about it. The next day I called his brother and told him that I’ve learned enough and that I was ready. I had already paid so he didn’t mind. It’s like I needed proof that I was not imagining what happened. It was like I didn’t want to hurt him because I felt guilty. Guilty of what, you may ask? I don’t know. I knew that telling my dad about what happened could turn his life upside down. But I couldn’t. I felt bad because I wasn’t able to handle it on my own. I felt bad because I wasn’t able to speak up. I felt weak and naïve. We should not be afraid. We shouldn’t feel guilty about hurting a harasser. We should not question ourselves. Whenever we are put in an uncomfortable situation, we should speak up. It is our right to feel safe when we are in a taxi, when we are walking in the street, when we are anywhere we want to be. This is why we all have to take to the streets on January the 14th and claim our rights back. Fight for your safety, against sexual harassment, against rape!

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Sawt al' Niswa

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