30 Day Travel Series: Can You Pass Me A Straw?

My hand had almost reached her arm when I felt a heavy slap on my forearm. He hit me with the back of his hand. I felt his aggression reverberate through my body.

I saw her in the corner. She was bent over the bar. There were four or five men around her. Her head flopped back, her eyes rolled up and I could see that she was on a lot of drugs. She pressed her butt into one man’s groin. The other men gave each other a sloppy cheers, laughing and watching closely and their friend rubbed himself on her. My back tensed up, I felt like my heart might beat out of my chest. Rage.

I walked over towards the group, ordered a drink and scanned the situation to see if there was a way to connect with her. The jar of straws was right by her. I reached out to tap her arm to ask her if she could pass me a straw. I wanted to look her in the eyes and let her know that I knew she'd be okay and that it was probably really scary and stressful to be her in that moment, suffocating under the men’s laughter while they grabbed her and pressed themselves on her. Maybe it wasn't scary for her, but if that was me I would want another woman to let me know that they were there in the same room with me.

My hand had almost reached her arm when I felt a heavy slap on my forearm. He hit me with the back of his hand. I felt his aggression reverberate through my body.

“I was just going to ask her to pass me a straw,” I said to him innocently. His eyes pierced my facade. “If you want a straw, ask the bartender.” His words felt like slime. He was at least six-foot-four and his shoulders seemed to take up the whole bar. I wanted to throw my drink in his face; I wanted to take off the woman's heels and pound them on his head; I wanted to jump on him and punch him as hard as I could. But I knew I couldn't do any of that. I knew I would end up in a chokehold, my locked arms at my side, kicking and screaming. I knew pleading with him would be my only option. I would plead in his arms for him to stop and feel his heart beat against my back. Release me, I would beg. I would give in for a minute, save up my energy and then try to burst out. Then he would tighten his grip. I saw myself there, elevated off the floor, the women's head rolling around beside me, her hips gyrating.

I went back out to the dance floor, with my strawless bitter lemon soda bottle in my hand. From the dance floor I could see his shoulders bounce up and down when he laughed. My arm still stung where he had hit me. I wanted to go over to the DJ, unplug the music and make an announcement that a huge, disgusting, dangerous man in the corner had lost touch with his humanity and needed to be set up with a counselor. I wanted him to be escorted out of the bar by a team of Zen monks who'd take him somewhere to find his inner peace. On his way out I would stop him and say in front of the whole bar, “I think I will be able to forgive you before you are ready to say sorry, but please do still say sorry to me, I will appreciate it. Say sorry to her too.” I'd point to the woman who’d be nodding off on a bar stool. “In fact, everyone in the bar should apologize to this woman for the fact that we all comply with a society where trading your body for drugs and pennies is so many women’s reality.” I would tell the DJ he could turn back on the music if he’d like.

I had to go home. I felt sick. I called Pascal and asked him if he could pick me up. He arrived in eight minutes.

I'd never been so excited to see his 1981 falling-apart Nissan. That night I didn't care if I had to push start it, or stop and wait in the long line at the gas station with him. I would have ridden around for the rest of my life in that car if it was the only way out of that bar.

I was up all night wondering where those four and five men and that woman went. I hoped that they drank so much at the bar that they could no longer stand; I hoped that they were barfing on the side of the street somewhere or passed out with their shoes on. I didn't care what they were doing, I just wanted to know that they weren't raping that woman.

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This is one of 30 untold stories of launching a global project (with my boyfriend, Julian) about love, story telling and connecting change makers.

Read all 30 days here: http://www.smithmag.net/community/people.php/HBOX

Throughout Vietnam, South Africa, and Uganda, we engaged with 650 everyday people working to make the world a better place to share their stories. Inevitably, there were parts of our adventures we couldn’t tell while on the road, because we were a start up trying to prove our merits as a serious social change project or because of nervous families monitoring our journey. But the truth is while we worked passionately to bring our dream project to life we also had an adventure of a lifetime. Here are the stories behind the stories of the Million Person Project: http://www.millionpersonproject.org.

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