Embracing Patriarchy to Escape Patriarchy, and Yourself-Sacrificing Coordinators

It’s Friday, and I’m walking back from KSG to the spot from which the bus will pick us up. I’m working out a budget in my head. Who I still need to buy gifts for, where we’ll be going over the weekend, what I owe people, the ride to the airport. Will I extend my stay? That’s money. Is it worth it? Will it affect my job? Being worried about money sucks (thinks the American walking out of the slum).

My thoughts are interrupted by one of my coordinators, who suddenly jumps up beside me and clenches my shoulders.
“No, stop, stop, he’s really scaring me!” she cries, which would be startling enough if she wasn’t also suddenly pushing me into the path of an oncoming man.
“I love you!” He is slurring his words and yelling, arms reaching. “Why are you leaving me all alone?”
I try to get out of his way, only to realize that my coordinator is wrenching me in place. She’s using me to hide, pushing my body toward his to block hers. Or as a trade? Is she trying to give me up to save herself?
“BABY! Dn’t leave me, ALOOOONE!”
The man is getting closer, still yelling. My coordinator is still pushing me toward him. Residents are watching us and laughing. Having got me into this slightly dangerous situation, she clearly isn’t going to save me. So I have to save her? Fine. I shove her along the path, trying to move away as quickly as possible. I can’t decide if it’s safer to ignore him and keep moving, or to tell him to go away. Looking around for help, I see Jake behind us.
“Will you please do your job as a man and make him go away?” I ask, but he doesn’t understand. As a trainer for the teachers, he’s only been with us a few days, and it’s clear that no one has let him know about the level of patriarchy here. He doesn’t get that right now, what will be safest for me is for the man to think that Jake is in charge of me, my coordinator, and the rest of the female volunteers.
“Hey, man, why don’t you leave them alone?” Jake says, weakly. Yeah, that’s a real stay away from my property warning. The man ignores him and keeps coming, shouting his ‘love’.
Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. Esther, the angel, our saviour from SHOFCO Youth has showed up. She says a few words to the man in Kiswahili, then turns him around and pushes him back down the path. Thank you. We’re okay.

I’m feeling weird about having embraced the messed up gender structures, if only for a second, in an attempt to save myself. Especially when it didn’t even work out. It seems I’ve been conforming a lot to things that are against my beliefs, just to get by here. I keep biting down on things that I’d otherwise proudly be saying. It’s part of the reason I wouldn’t be able to stay. My feminism is too radical here, even at KSG. I feel like shit for thinking this, and for being able to leave, as I currently walk out of the slum for the day. There it is, though. I like to think that I’ll find a way back to Kibera for a bit, but it still wouldn’t be permanent. I’m lucky enough not to have to stay here, yet.

And my coordinator, what is she doing? She’s finally let go of me. We are no longer struggling with each other. She’s gone.
I look behind me, at the line of white volunteers. She’d come from the back, running around all of them. Why did she choose me? Was it my race? Was it random? Why did it happen at all? She’s supposed to be in charge, protecting us. It is not supposed to be the other way ’round.

What the fuck was that?
She pushed me into his way.
She pushed me into his way.
Why?

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