Mandatory Male Counterpart

Traveling through the Middle East is not a particularly comfortable thing to do as a woman. A very young, very tall, white woman, in my case.

A lot of things could have gone wrong over the course of a semester studying abroad, but, praise the Lord, we walked away without (that many) horror stories. And that is at least in part due to the commitment and brotherly love of our Mandatory Male Counterparts, or M.M.C.s, as I refer to them. Going out a new part of town? Checking out a bar? Visiting the market at night? Grab an M.M.C.: one of the nine gentlemen who were part of this semester.

At times this felt limiting and degrading. I’d cross my arms and protest that I didn’t need anyone. But the truth is, I did, we did, and our bearded companions did everything in their power to make it as easy on us as possible. There was no gloating, no hint of smugness. There was usually an offer before the question was even asked. They came to us, sparing our dignity and allowing us to salvage our independence. I can’t remember an M.M.C. complaining once of this duty. Instead, they carried it with grace and even a little bit of pride.

I owe the M.M.C.s a special thank you. I know I made it hard on all of you. I ran away (often literally), I walked on the outside of the street, I slowed down to look around, and most of all I made sure you knew that I didn’t actually want you. I’m sorry. I don’t think I have ever told you how grateful I was for you. How I could walk down a street and just be, not having to worry about the stares or calls. It was so much easier with you at my side. And because of your presence, I saw the world in a way I never imagined possible. I met people otherwise off limits to me. I was able to experience this new existence in freedom, and most of all, safety.

Trust is not something I come by easily, and trusting the male students to help when I needed an M.M.C. seemed unlikely. But I get restless. Very, very restless: It feels like if I stop moving the bonds between my atoms will break and float away. During the first week in Amman, Jordan, I got restless. My usual solution for this is to pick a direction and walk until my atomic bonds decide to solidify again, but at midnight in the Middle East, I could not do it alone. That night I picked a direction and started to walk, and two M.M.C.s followed five steps behind me. That first week the two of them very simply showed me that they were trustworthy, and it didn’t take long for me to see the same sacrificial character the others as well.

I owe you an apology: I am sorry for underestimating you.

Thank you for serving me anyway.