I was warned this week that men were going to try to hold my hand.
I’m in Africa right now and one of the trip leaders told me to expect that grown men might try to take me by hand as we were walking together. They also told me not to worry about it because it’s a perfectly normal thing for an African man to do with his friend.
This didn’t make me any less anxious, mostly because I’m not an African man.
It made me think about what I would do if an African man took me by the hand while we are walking…
Would I instinctively flinch?
I don’t want to be offensive.
Would I just act naturally?
How do you act naturally?
I’ve never held hands, as a grown man, with another grown man before.
What’s the protocol?
Do I swing my arms?
How hard should I grip?
Who’s thumb goes on top?
Will we interlock our fingers?
What do I do when our hands get sweaty?
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN IT’S TIME TO LET GO?
All of this made me realize that I don’t just have anxiety about holding hands with someone I’ve just met, I am also pretty protective of my personal space…
I don’t like people standing within an arms length of me when we’re having a conversation.
I don’t like feeling the clammy elbow of the passenger next to me on an airplane.
I don’t like people I don’t know sitting right next to me at the movies.
I don’t like people standing too close to me in grocery lines.
I don’t like being one of three people in a car’s backseat.
I don’t like things positioned directly above my head.
I don’t like being touched while sleeping in bed.
I don’t like peoples hands near my face.
I don’t like people using the next stall.
I don’t like people parking too close.
I don’t like feeling mouth-air.
I don’t like getting bumped.
I don’t like ear-whispers.
I don’t like being poked.
I don’t like crowds.
For the most part, the people of the majority world don’t want, or need, a lot of space. Often times I’ve found that they like being close together with other people. They expect daily human contact and interaction. Many of them view it as the sign of vital relationships.
As a sign of solidarity and unity it makes them feel connected,
It helps them feel safe,
It makes them feel strong.
Beyond this, human touch displays affirmation and affection.
It helps them feel loved.
It helps them show love.
It is also a display of protection.
I began to feel better about my African prospects when it was explained to me that when an African man takes your hand, it’s more than just a sign of friendship and affection, it’s also the sign of togetherness: “This person is with me, so don’t bother them.”
You are off-limits for hassling and exploitation.
They have taken responsibility for you.
This is opposite to the life many of us aspire to in the west. We desire to be “individuals”, to provide for ourselves, to posses our own things and to only be responsible for ourselves on our own “personal journey” through life.
You see this reflected in how we spend our time…
“Ever since they moved it’s a hassle to go visit.”
Really? because we have cars and planes.
How we spend our money…
“We’re going to put in our own home theater.”
For “family time” right?
In our words and phrases…
“I don’t regret anything because it made me who I am today.”
How did it affect everybody else though?
I don’t know how I’m going to respond when an African dude holds my hand.
I think I’m just gonna hold his hand the way he holds mine.
and I’m not gonna let go until he does.
Even if it feels a little wierd.
It might just be the next step to getting over myself.