Dear Phil and Jeff, Street-Smarts and Booze

Dear Phil and Jeff,

Two guys I admire so! Wow. Thanks to you both for being you.

I feel so lucky to have strong male protectors in my life–and I’m proud to include you both in that category. Guys who have been there for me, at pivotal points in both my business and personal life; who have shown up to paint walls, take pictures, redesign websites; provide wisdom and insight and guidance and resources. Men who I know I can call if the going gets rough, for either moral or physical support. I haven’t always had friends like you.

And it’s times like these, when I’m traveling, when I wish I could pull you out of my back pocket and take you with me. In all of South Africa, it was too unsafe for me to be out alone–as a tourist in general, but especially as a white woman. Locals said they never left the house after dark; as I mentioned in a previous letter, my massage therapist in Cape Town said she always has a chaperone escort her the half-block from the neighborhood pub to her house. Muggings, rapes, street violence of all types are rampant. As I reflect on my time in South Africa, I’d give all the places I visited resoundingly positive reviews–but sadly, I don’t imagine planning a trip to go back anytime soon, due solely to the fact that safety is still so much of an issue.

And now I’m in the Seychelles, far from mainland Africa and in a place with a completely different cultural ethos. Folks walk barefoot down the beach paths, with cell phones and jewelry languidly hanging off their wrists. There are lots of people around, of varying colors and income levels, and crime rates seem to be low. For the first time in over two weeks of traveling, I’m seeing women walking by themselves, or sitting on the beach on their own (and scantily-clad in revealing swimsuits, no less!)–what a revelation!

It’s been refreshing to both literally and metaphorically stretch my own legs, and walk down the densely populated beach front on my own without feeling in danger. And yet, I’m still on high alert–and there are moments where I’ve felt threatened. Men’s eyes can be so hungry, and it’s hard to ignore blatant stares that last much longer than is comfortable. Harder even to ignore are calls and heckles, which are not as prevalent here as in many places I’ve traveled (or even in pockets of Portland–yes, you manly men, ask your lady friends how it is to walk around the city. Especially during the summer. I’ve considered doing a tally, of how many times I get hollered at on a daily/weekly basis), but still exist. And there’s something about being in a land that’s different than mine, in a culture I don’t quite know the norms–and with language being spoken commonly that I don’t understand–that makes it harder to settle down and relax completely.

I’ve found this affecting not only the way I walk in the world, and the way I navigate my days, but also my sleep patterns. I’m identifying feeling some degree of unsafe on a pretty regular basis, which is not like me. I’d characterize myself as nearly “fearless” in my hometown of Portland, walking with confidence on my own for miles every day, no concern for the hour or neighborhood I’m in. Here, not so much. My hackles are up more consistently. My nervous system is primed and ready to spring into defense.

So yes, suffice to say: Phil and Jeff, I wish you were here with me. It’s so different walking with a man than it is walking on my own. My empowered woman self resists admitting it, but this trip has been a true demonstration of the importance of not being flippant about safety; not taking security for granted. And it’s wild to be so aware that anytime I’m in a public setting, I can’t truly relax as I’d like to. (Interestingly, this makes an hour here or there on my computer feel like times of recharge, refuge, and respite; strong contrast from the outside world, both literally and energetically. Especially sweet when spending time writing to men I hold so dear!)

I want to take a sharp turn to the left now, and take a moment before I wrap to share with you both about something much more enjoyable: local imbibements!

Here in the Seychelles, rum drinks are the specialty; there’s one local distillery, Takamaka that makes a rainbow of rums, in addition to one vodka. Last night, at the open-air bar a half-block down from the bungalows where we’re staying, we tried shots of them all (with the exception of their 69-proof): extra dark, standard dark, white, and coconut. The coconut was saccharine-sweet and syrup-y (yeah, yeah, we should’ve known better…); white was mild with palpable sugar cane; extra dark wasn’t actually as spicy as I predicted, and I would’ve liked for it to pack a bit more punch. We’ve also ordered a white rum-based caipirinha at a couple bars, which has fast been decreed by my parents and I as one of the simplest and tastiest cocktails available: limes muddled with fresh brown sugar (with such vigor that one of our bartenders broke the glass!), topped with rum (in lieu of Brazilian cachaça, another sugarcane-based liquor that the drink originated with) and crushed ice. There’s something about the citrus-rum combination, with sugary undertones, that makes this drink irresistible on the hot Mahe beachfront. Perhaps all that crushed ice has something to do with it, too…

Wines are all imported here, many of which come from South Africa, and across the board, they’ve been excellent–especially the mild, dry whites (a good Sauv Blanc seems to be most restaurants’ go-to house wine). Beer-wise, there are several local favorites, that range from really cheap-y lagers to a little more exciting IPA-style brews. Sey-brew is the most widely available, which my sleuthing reveals is, in fact, legitimately brewed on-island by the SBL company (which, side note, just happens to be a very auspicious set of initials!). SBL also produces and bottles a local Guinness iteration, in addition to the slightly hoppier “EKU,” and a number of Smirnoff-type bottled flavored spirits. Guinness seemed to me an outlier amidst all these light & sweet sugarbombs, until my sleuthing revealed that the Guinness company actually bought majority share of SBL back in 1993.

As far as non-alcoholic drinks go: fruit juices of nearly every tropical permutation (mango, passionfruit, guava, orange–etc) are wildly popular, and coconuts with their tops lopped off and straws sticking out are rampant with street vendors everywhere. Personally, I’m drinking a lot of water, with the occasional cup of “citronelle” (aka lemongrass, another island specialty) tea in the evenings–color me boring, but for the sake of health & hydration it’s hitting my body in all the right places.

Thinking of you both, today, dear Phil and Jeff, and feeling so much gratitude for all the joy, friendship, and support you bring. I don’t have any blood brothers, but you and a few others in my life are as close as I’ll ever get to chosen family. Thanks for that.

PS Today’s cover photo was taken at our lunch today at Le Jardin du Roi, The Spice Garden, in between strolls and swims on the calmest beach in town (a delightful deviation from the beach outside our bungalows, where waters are rough and wild during monsoon season). Mojitos haven’t been on common ordering rotation, but this one–with muddled mint from the on-site garden–was extraordinary enough for my mom to pronounce it “the best mojito ever.” And this from a woman who’s had her share of ‘em–across the Americas and Europe, and yes, even in Cuba.

2 thoughts on “Dear Phil and Jeff, Street-Smarts and Booze

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