Show on two Wheels: whether you like it or not, you as a lone female are more a of a show than any other combination of people on a bicycle! Get used to it.
I wrote another post for women ‘Women Department‘ where you can see the different items needed for women on a long tour. In another post I share my view what the deal is with cycling in Islamic countries and in an interview with a male friend we talk about the differences between a man and a woman cycling solo in Iran.
You may think you are a normal person, as far as that is possible since you are cycling the world on your own, you are not. You are extraordinary! You are doing something super special. Something rarely done by woman in the country you are cycling through! Don’t make the mistake I sometimes do: wondering why every one stares at you! I think I am not the most beautiful species on earth, neither the most impressive or weirdest looking, but fact is: I am. For them I am, all of it, at the same time. Isn’t that a beautiful thing : )
Peephole Pleasure: it can happen that frustrated guys will peek through all kind of holes, windows and openings. Since I am a cyclist, it did not happen yet. Or I might not have been aware of it. As a rule I don’t sleep naked anymore; it can happen you need to run -several earthquakes taught me-. When taking a shower it might help to drape your towel over the door-handle. When undressing I naturally move my back to any possible viewpoint. Actually, I am always on my guard and automatic -and no, it’s really not paranoia- check open walls in toilets, open air flows in showers and all other possible holes and cracks and openings to look through. Men do crazy things -especially in Iran and Pakistan- they do built scaffolds to get what they want. Just be aware and don’t allow them to have a look at your uncovered body!
Alarm: what helps when things get out of hand is be your own alarm. Either for dogs chasing you or men doing indecent handling on your body. SCREAM!
The Load: we are carrying is obviously more heavy compared than men carrying the same amount. Most of us women are lighter built, thus it can become a lot harder to fill up that tummy where all the energy is generated from. I often eat double meals and noticed breakfasts just don’t fill me up. I can eat bread for hours and don’t get the satisfactory feeling of moving my ship across the waves. Get filled up with bananas and then that tummy roars with happiness!
Smiling: We, Western women, are usually friendly and open, without any hidden message behind it. Smiling friendly to strangers on the road, waving and saying ‘hello’ in the local language can be a provocation to some. Usually farmers, workers or educated won’t think any of it, waving back happily. But some definitely turn back, follow you and see if your inviting approach is still available.
Africa, to me, was safe however, because Africans will always, in my experience, ask friendly before reacting. With some comparing material like Turkey and Iran, it’s honest to say that Africans are the true gentlemen! They may not carry your load, like the Iranians, they definitely know how to treat the European women. Compliments for all those gentle Africans!
Iran, on the other hand, can be plain bothersome! In Iran I sadly found out it’s best to ignore every single man. This is really not my style of sliding through a country, but in order not to be seen as a Russian prostitute on campaign on her bicycle, I better behave cool. Not to men with their wife on the back of their motorbike though. Men accompanied by women and children are safe too. I noticed I can be friendly to shepherds and all those who can’t follow me instantly. I don’t wave to men polishing their cars along the road. Truck drivers are a complete no go. They must be frustrated, sitting all day on their soft warm chairs behind the steering wheel. Their balls heated up and their minds far away from their own woman. Then, seeing such a frivolous European must-be prostitute on a bicycle, their minds -testosterone- goes wild! Truck drivers are the worst of all, they try to do all to get your attention and they won’t mind getting their heavy vehicles to a halt minute after minute, only to make you understand you should stop too. No way! I completely ignore truck drivers. Where ever I can, I ignore young men on motorbikes too. Do stop when motorbikes start riding next to you, because I noticed they usually will get the message and ride on. The best approach to young Iranian men is ignoring.
A good rule is: ‘Don’t stop for lone men who stop shortly after seeing you’
Some handy lines in Farsi:
Man mesl madaretam – I am like your mother
Man mesl khaharetam – I am like your sister
Khejalat bekesh – be ashamed of yourself
Your Bra: Your sports bra holds way more than your breast alone. While cycling it’s annoying to carry a money belt -sticking against your sweaty body- and not very necessary either in my opinion. Your documents will be safe in the handlebar bag which is always in front of you. Money and credit cards, however, I carry close to my other precious belongings. I carry 3 bank cards, only one is in my money belt I carry in the handlebar bag, the other two are in a little pouch, together with the bigger stash of money. Wrap the money around the credit cards and stow them in a plastic wrapping. This wrapping goes in a little pouch made from textile, closed with a safety-pin. My sweaty breasts will not sprinkle the money, neither shift them out-of-place. Getting your little pouch out in public places is neither something weird ’cause most women wear their belongings in their bra. That is, most rural women… but ain’t you a nomad too?
Fighting Skills: Sometimes people advise me to learn fighting techniques like Karate. Fact is that when you really get angry, you fight automatic. Usually you only fight against men who touch you in places where they should not touch you: your breast and your crotch. Touching the bum is not fun either but can be fought with throwing stones or reacting loudly so all around will hear it, or with a slap across the face. Quite some men will ‘accidentally’ touch your breast, as if their fingers or hand moved just a bit too enthusiastic and widely. To start a fight with them would be slightly overreacted, usually I would walk away without saying any word, but eyes shooting stones.
In fact, (Muslim) men should not touch at all. They would not to their own local women so why should they with you? When a man touch my arm or shoulder I will shove away his hand, not aggressively but in such a way he knows he can’t do what he wishes to a Western woman. When he wants to hold me when a photograph is being made, I confidently ask him not to touch me, befóre he does so! On the other hand: women, it’s a true pleasure to be surrounded with loving women. We, women, we touch each other, we kiss each other motherly, sisterly and friendly on the cheeks and hands. Connecting with women makes no reason for doubt or hesitance. All the love you had to be careful with before, you can unload now!
The more you travel, the more your expression will change to a look which makes clear not to mess with you. Over the years I got less and less troubles with men, but lately I had to go to the police office to teach a guy his private lesson, of course, not before I kicked and beaten him up. But however well you kick him, you are still a woman and sometimes I get the impression it won’t hurt them much. Yet, the message is clear. Be aware that your anger won’t blind you, in order not to throw him off the stairs, break bottles on his head or get into other thorny situations…
Husband: I prefer to have an invisible husband rather than none at all. Having no husband implies to many men that you are available, otherwise you would not travel on your own. Somehow, single women are seen as sex searchers. No matter how terrible you’re dressed, expectations what’s underneath are high. On the other hand, having a husband who’s not with you, implies something is different, something might be wrong, something might just be clear: a free relationship. It helps if you know a male cyclist is cycling in front of you, even days or weeks in front of you; this could be your husband. Explain that he’s fast and you slow and that’s how things work in your country. Weird, yes… but at least you’ve got a husband. For me it makes explaining why I don’t want sex easier, ‘I am married and I love my husband’ is usually enough to make clear that you don’t want a lover on the side. It’s way shorter than explaining that you are not easy to get, that you don’t want to have sex, that you are not like the women they’ll see on television, that our behavior is not how they see it in the media.
Your periods: I rave about it, the Cup is the only way to go if you still get your periods. You won’t feel it and it’s easy to empty, even along a muddy road. You only need half a liter water to clean the Cup and yourself. Ah, and about condoms, for those who need to be prepared: to be found anywhere! In Africa they come with the room ; )
Trucks: if you decide to stop for a truck driver who request you to stop, I advise you to do right in front of all traffic. Chances are he want to try to fulfill a few needs. By hiding yourself behind his truck or out of sight from oncoming traffic he can succeed more easily. Don’t stop at all, or keep a distance, or have yourself well visible for other people on the road.
Cars: in general cars will stop you for a talkative moment, some photographs of you, because people are just happy to see a cyclist in their country. Some are just horny and in for sex, you are a lone European woman after all. I have tried all defenses, waving down other vehicles -if there are- to getting angry, or declaring him crazy. You can start throwing stones too but this might just a turn on for men. The best one is to stay calm, get off your bicycle and clearly visible take your pen and notebook. Then you make sure he will picture you even more clearly when you note down his number plate. Within seconds he’ll drive off and you won’t see him again.
Clothes: it depends where you are… dress sexy if the women do so too, dress covered up if that’s the example you see all around you. I am not easily spotted in revealing clothes, though when I see pictures of myself cycling in West Africa or Armenia, I don’t dare to think of it while being in Iran. Usually, I go for pretty covered up, wide clothes which are not too feminine. Baggy and easy to pull up and down when peeing next to the road. For cycling you need trousers which are tight below the knee so they won’t intertwine with your oily chain. For being off the bicycle I like to dress feminine and fashionable, but, exactly as the locals do. So for Africa I had one dress made and could wear it in each country if I felt the need to dress up. Don’t worry, it doesn’t matter how ugly, dirty, sweaty, pimpled, muddy, disgusting you look like, you will get attention. More than you’d ever wished for…
Man: when you meet someone you want to be closer with -even if that is to chat in private- tell people in less progressive countries that he’s your husband. In some countries you need to show your marriage papers, that is, if he’s not a foreigner too. In general in Africa the rule is: be happy. In some other countries boyfriends do not exist. It happened that I wanted to share a room with a French Yves who’d become my friend -no way we wanted to share more than a room only- but since it was a Catholic Mission (in Liberia) I was not allowed to share a room with a man: ‘Imagine, a man and a woman in one room?!’ screamed the woman, who was in charge of the place, in terror she was. However, I did manage to share a room with a Japanese woman, and I could not help myself but react softly: ‘Imagine what two women can do in one room?!’
Eye Contact: I find it rather bothersome but in order to be decent in Iran -and in more countries going East- you need to cast your eyes in another position then we do usually. There are 3 options: downwards/upwards or straight, or right through everyone. In order not to have comments or remarks. Of course you can be friendly and happy and all that but I noticed I am left alone when my behavior is more in tune with the local women. So NO messing around with this lady! Eye contact is the beginning of a turn on.
I notice how different contact between local men and me becomes when I am accompanied by another Western man. It’s an amazing change, and I do enjoy the liberty of basking either in silence or expressing myself naturally. When I am with a Western man, usually I am ignored out of respect, so not too much eye contact or staring will happen -and in some very remote places in Pakistan, I am cómpletely ignored- It happens that you as a woman are not addressed at all and so it can be a little difficult to keep quiet because we are not used to it. On the other hand, being with a Western man gives me more freedom when I am in places where usually only men gathers (chaikhaneh) and when I do laugh out loud I am not too much of an outcast because this is ‘our normal behavior’.
Be a woman when you need to: you got to act both as a woman and man. That’s pretty much the rule throughout your travel on a bicycle where ever you go. Don’t let your guard down once accompanied by a man. You may be a woman for once, finally again, but don’t forget it’s you who came this far without trouble. You will find out soon you will feel less strong and less determined. That’s because you now look through a different frame. Keep doing the things you did when being alone, for example: don’t feel ashamed to ask prices, like you did before. It doesn’t mean now you are with a man you can rely on his abilities, if he is not asking prices before than you might be the nasty lady afterward to bargain them down. The way you act might be wrong in other men his view but that’s because they are men and in countries like Iran being a woman has not only disadvantages but huge benefits too. Women in Iran can demand in certain ways a man would never be able to.
Be Firm as a Woman!