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The Handshaking Boob-Jiggler of Sfakia Crete by Kirsten Koza
By Kirsten Koza
My hand is locked in a vice grip by a stalky Cretan restaurateur. “Surviving the gauntlet” is what I’ve dubbed strolling along the bistro lined boardwalk of Chora Sfakion’s seafront while fending off greetings from eager maître d’s. And now my entire arm is being pumped up and down so vigorously that I’m sure water is going to start spurting out of my mouth.
Why won’t he let go? I want him to stop. His eyes lower, his whole head tilts downward – his face is inches from my bouncing left breast and he isn’t even masking what he’s doing. He’s purposely making my boob jiggle.
My friend Kimmy, who has been to Sfakia many times, assures me that the man is “harmless” and “wouldn’t hurt a fly”. But the experience reminds me of when my sister-in-law’s St. Bernard snuck up behind me as I sat on her couch and grabbed my arm, letting me feel his teeth on my bicep.
When I was 26 and men wolf whistled or tossed comments loaded with sexual innuendo my way, I was outraged - how dare they treat me like a walking rump roast? Now I’m 46 and this rump roast walks around feeling past her prime. Canadian men pass me on the street, eyes glued to the horizon, seldom a wink. Then last month I went to a writing retreat in Crete.
On my first night on the Greek island, the local men of Sfakia, each with a face worthy of being a Karsh portrait, openly flirted with me. Suddenly fishing nets, bee keeping, tomato growing, olive oil and baklava were all somehow about sex. As I left the taverna a baker offered to tuck me into bed. We didn't make sausage rolls but my self-confidence soared.
I’d arrived several days early at the writing retreat to conquer jetlag before working. As the other Canadian and Australian women landed I witnessed their titillation over the same sexy banter in the taverna - and when I say "same banter", I mean the exact same lines that were used on me were also used on women exceeding my mother's age. At 46, I was the second youngest in the group of scientists, writers, university profs and grandmothers.
At dinner one night, we marvelled at the Cretan men paying attention to women regardless of age and how good it felt to be noticed. Shirley Valentine was mentioned. Then the grass is greener moment ended as rhetorical questions such as, “Where are their wives?” were asked.
I suggested to the group that possibly one of the cultural explanations for why men at home don’t tend to do this is that Canadian males have been trained through decades of negative reinforcement that lewd behaviour directed at women often results in painful testicular removal, whether by well-aimed words, stiletto, Doc Martens, or law suit. Then it was noted that perhaps our pendulum at home has swung too far because now gangs of gals are often the ones that accost strange men with lascivious comments – “Check out that baker’s buns.”
There’s a grey area in the sexual arena that is harder for some individuals to navigate. But regardless, unwanted sexual harassment is not culturally defensible. And culture can be a dangerous excuse for allowing harmful behavior to continue.
There is also a perception in many countries that because female travallers are out for a night having dinner and drinks that they’re up for anything, that they’re open 24/7 to all the drooling f-uglies. But you don’t have to be so culturally respectful and polite that you end up compromising your own best interests.
I’m not saying to pepper spray the boob-jiggler of Sfakia. Janet Barkhouse, a Canadian poet and grandmother, handled him well when he attempted to dominate her. She stiffened her arm, stuck out her chin and said, “Oh, no, you don’t!”
Giorgos Votzakis runs the taverna and Mesohori Studios where we stayed. He’s a consummate professional and caring host. It was a fabulous place to work and enjoy genuine Cretan local-life and hospitality. http://www.leaplocal.org/locals/view/334/
Kirsten Koza is an adventure travel writer, speaker, and the author of, . Her Kyrgyzstan story "Mare's Milk, Mountain Bikes, Meteors & Mammaries; a nipply night in nomad's land" is being published in anthology, which hits store shelves in July, 2012. And her story "Easter Island and the Chilean with the Brazilian" is also coming out this July in - the ninth book in the Travelers' Tales best-selling humour series. Her articles and photographs have featured around the world in newspapers and magazines. Kirsten is a passionate advocate for local travel and has bicycled (badly) across twenty countries, was rewarded with a ham for the first mountain bike ascent up Romania's Mt. Cocora, has driven the intercept vehicle tornado chasing across the USA - covering 19,900 kilometres, has kayaked inches from alligators, was held at gunpoint in Honduras for 12 hours, was tattooed by a Rapa Nui tafunga, and has put testicles and many other unusual food items in her mouth. Kirsten is the Competition Executive for Leap Local and runs the travel magazine. To see pictures and read more about Kirsten's misadventures visit: www.kirstenkoza.com