I stated taking walks seriously in 2017. My dad had his leg amputated years earlier- at the time I thought nothing of it, until 2017 when I started research for my final year project. I was visiting hospitals in Minna trying to compare their facilities, when I met a man with his leg amputated. We got talking, he told me how he lost his limb to diabetes. I wasn’t long before I had the conversation with my dad, confirming that like the man, my dad also lost his limb as a result of diabetes complications.
After lots of research and chats with my medical friends, I decided I had to ensure a diabetes free future for myself and, to do two things: Cut off soft drinks (I am non-alcoholic) so, all drinks actually, just water and fruits. The second was to find a way to exercise, to sustainably exercise. And since I do not have the habit of deceiving myself, I knew the gym was out of question. It was therefore easy to come to the decision to take walks at least thrice a week, for an hour.
The Rational Gender
I am very poor at math, but I did put in the walk, especially in 2018. I can say that I walked kilometers, sometimes walking every day of the week, other times, five days a week. I took the most walks on the weekends, walking mornings and evenings, finding new routes, taking pictures of random things; the sunset, the sun rise, trees, flowers, even drainage systems.
One evening, as I was on my merry walk, ear buds on to ward off the cat calls, and certain I was not using a route I had used recently, I noticed a young man tailing me. Of course I was scared, terrified, panicking, but like women before me must have done, I tried to act cool, pick up my pace and not run across the street like a mad woman. After all, he might have just been in a hurry.
I was not entirely wrong. He was in a hurry to catch up with me, to strike up a conversation with me, because a woman walking alone with ear buds in her ears and minding her business must mean that she is available to talk. But why I still remember this particular incident isn’t because he was the only man who interrupted my many walks, it was because he reached for my ear bud, removed them from my ears and proceeded to say hi to a very shocked me. I know how as women, we play these scenarios in our heads and think that if we were caught in the moment, we would go ballistic. but we do the opposite most times, and that is to go numb. I was almost frozen to the spot I stood, wondering the sheer audacity it must have taken to do something so invasive.
Yet he kept on talking, oblivious of the trespass to my person and my time that had just occurred on his account. he then paused for a while, to ask my name. So I told him, politely, that I was not in the mood to talk and would like to be left alone. His reaction to my polite reply was to call me a rude woman. Didn’t I see that he had to run after me? how was it a big deal for me to talk to him for some minutes? Why couldn’t I just behave like a normal human being? And since he was starting to cause a scene, I stopped a tricycle and left him. Unknown to me, he followed me, and started to show up everywhere I went. I changed routes, changed my walk schedule, all to no avail. Eventually, I had to start looking for walk partners, calling friends up to ask them to walk with me or give up walking for the days I couldn’t find anyone to walk with.
This, amongst other reasons, but this was why when my friend, Barr A. A Umar talked about us starting a hiking group, I immediately welcomed the idea. We co- founded Minna Hike and Trek. The group met only on Saturdays, and that too, nothing more than two hours of walk tops. I wasn’t walking as much as I wanted, but at least I had the protection of numbers. I left Minna for Kano shortly after the group took off.
Men being men/ Boys will be boys and other such statements
When I moved to Kano I fell very ill for a couple of months. The moment I was able to feel a little like myself, I started walking again. I thought it would be a brilliant opportunity to learn about Kano; find new routes and areas, take beautiful pictures. I thought I could really dive into photography, while keeping fit. I soon gave up on my wild idea.
Everywhere I went, men followed me. And no, I do not particularly have a spectacular face, but I do have spectacular breasts that are quite hard to not notice. So that it didn’t matter that I wore a hijab reaching my knees, wore trousers covering my ankles, wore shoes covering my feet. There were men, trailing me in cars, walking besides me, striking conversations that I made clear I did not want a part of. Men who denied me the comfort of a simple walk and thought to themselves that they were being nice and were flattering me with their attention.
And since my husband was a very busy man, while I was a freelancer working from home at the time, he didn’t have the luxury to go on walks with me. I also didn’t have friends who liked to walk in the new city I found myself. I gave up walking, for the second time.
Not all men, the foolishness of it.
The funny thing however was that I had forgotten about the Minna stalker in 2018 until few weeks ago. I had gone into work. There were about a handful of us there, when a colleague asked our thoughts on what to get his girlfriend. As he asked, all eyes turned to me, being the only woman in the room. I said to him that I wouldn’t know what his girlfriend may like, as I was not his girlfriend. So he asked what I would like for a gift, if it were me. I thought about it, thought about all the books on my booklist, and said I would very much love some books. They all laughed, they said they always knew I was not the typical woman- which if you speak man, is code for, “all women are cray-cray except you,” and it is not a compliment. Someone then suggested that he buy her a phone, he said women always like phones. Or take her shopping, another suggested, women live for shopping. I sat at my desk, shaking my head and typing away at my laptop.
But then when I was ready to head home, I put on my headphones. One of them then asked why I was always putting on headphones and how, it was quite dangerous to wear headphones and walk. So, I told him that I never actually play anything while walking with headphones, and that they were always slightly twisted from my ears actually, so I was capable of perfect hearing. I told him the real reason I wore them was to discourage men from hollering at me. He paused for a minute, then went, Oh, then I will just yank it from your head if I was the one trying to talk to you I also paused for a minute, because in one minute, this man who I know went to school and travels the world, descended to the level of the man that cost me my walks in Minna. They probably have never met each other, but here they were thinking exactly the same, because how dare I, a woman, think that I can deny a man the right to talk to me when he wants.
… then your father/brother/husband is trash too
On the day I decided to give up walking in Kano, a car followed me all the way home. My husband was getting ready for work when I got in. I wrapped myself in his arms and said to him, even before explaining why I was upset, men are scum. He held me tightly and nodded in the affirmative. Asides acknowledging my privilege (because it turns out marrying a decent man is a huge privilege for a woman) it got me to understand, that the men who have argued against that phrase, were men who weren’t being sincere with themselves.
You see, daughters grow up caged by their fathers, protecting them from men. Mothers warn their daughters about men. Families are scared to let their children have sleep overs, go out unsupervised, just in case some pervert may be around. Men are liars when they do not acknowledge that after spending all their lives trying (in weird and abusive ways sometimes) to protect their women from other men, that men aren’t a collection of fears to women. It is unfair and insensitive to then belittle the fear from where the generalization comes from.
Real men don’t…
Who then were these men who disrupted an integral part of my life, who took away a part of my fitness plan? What gender was the colleague who made it seem like trespassing on a person was something a man had a right to do?
I sometimes wonder what people mean when they say real men don’t do the various harmful things that men have the audacity to do. Who does them then? Because from where I write, the beings that violated my space were no squirrels.
What should matter.
For me, I lost the joy of doing something that made me happy, kept me healthy and one step away from diabetes. And men cost me that.
What should matter when women share experiences is the experience being shared and how to bring to account the men who put women in the hurtful positions they find themselves. The truth remains that men hurt women. Men cost women the very simplest of things. Simple things like taking a walk, and hoping to stay fit.
And if out of all that is said and shared, what comes to mind is how to excuse the gender that brings the hurt, then rationality shouldn’t really be what the male gender places their superiority over.
I currently skip rope, when it crosses my mind. I still do not take soft drinks, I cut carbs few weeks ago and I watch my food portions. But what I really long for, is to one day take a walk in the evening and have zero fear of being bothered, groped, assaulted or even raped by men.