Several days ago, I set off to take a walk by myself, described as relatively easy and not too long, to the beach at Anse (bay) Major, more or less west of us down the island. It promised to go through some of the forest as well as along the glacis rocks, and I was ready for a change of scene from all the glistening white sand and glinting turquoise waters. I started out by walking down the road to the next town (Bel Ombre), which was HOT and a little scary (roads are narrow, people drive quickly, cars are on the left if a particular side is chosen, personal space is on a smaller scale than we're used to). Along the way to the trail head, I meandered down to the beach and back, I surreptitiously took a picture of a small tuna catch being loaded into a refrigerated van, I saw my first of the now many GIANT spiders I've seen (about 3 or 4 inches long; evidently, if you have the bad luck to run into one of their webs, you bounce off because they're so strong), I chatted up a man at the end-of-the-line bus stop ("Hello, could you tell me when the next bus comes?" "Yes, in about 10 minutes, at 11:00am." "And does it come often, every half hour?" "No no, every one hour." Titillating conversation.), and I bought a Sey Pearl (local soda maker; division of Sey Breweries and cousin to Seybrew, the local lager) Fruit Punch.
I continued up the hill and turned right onto a narrow paved track, following the arrow to Anse Major. I walked along into the forest, glad for shade, drinking my ridiculously sweet but undoubtedly electrolyte-filled punch, and I came up a hill next to a house and was hailed.
"Hello!" called a man. "I have a fruit bat here in a cage! Would you like to see it?" I hesitated, because I usually don't go in for such invitations in foreign places, but I glanced at the man and he was very thin, as if he had some neurological damage or something, and he was friendly, and it was hot, and I was following whimsy rather than plan, so I turned off the track and went to say hello.
Sure enough, this man had a fruit bat, one of the ones we see diving around the skies at dusk every night, in a cage in front of his home. Once I was up the walk, he explained that he sewed some things, and had a little shop in his house, and would I like to take a look, take a look, a look is free. I felt a little helpless to avoid taking a look--I mean, why not just a look, after all--and so I went in.
The man, Richard, was a talker. While I looked around at the clothes lining the walls of the workroom of his house, and took in the couple of old photos, the ancient sewing machine, and the, unfortunately, ugly wares, Richard told me about his life. He had three children, and a German wife, who was not his wife anymore and was back in Germany. The children lived with him but were at school. The German wife came to visit every year or so, but stayed in another bedroom, not in his, no, not anymore ha ha. About 15 years ago he had gone to work on a boat (I don't know in what capacity)--a great job--room and board paid, plus a salary--but he had had an accident after 3 years and had been crippled. He had not walked for over six months; had not really been able to walk before nine months (and indeed, now, 12 years later, made his way across the room by holding himself up and creeping around the wall). I assume spinal cord damage; at any rate, something to keep his body from fleshing out in a normal way, in addition to the severe unsteadiness.
Richard noticed my shorts (knee-length Old Navy drawstring ones) and said that they were good for hiking--better than the really short things other women wore on this trail--but that he couldn't make such things because elastic was hard to get in the Seychelles. I pulled up my shirt slightly and pointed out that they had no elastic, just a drawstring, and Richard was suddenly enthralled. A rope, my shorts used a rope, just like the skirts and things that he made! He could copy them, could make a pattern from them, if I would only let him have them for five minutes, just to make some measurements and to study their form.
"Are you asking me to take my pants off?" I asked, somewhat incredulously.
"Only for five minutes!" he replied. "You can wear some clothes from here! Just to have a look, so that I can make some myself!"
I thought about it. Richard was obviously not a physical threat. I had, hanging on the back of my daypack, a kikoy (piece of 3X5 Kenyan cloth Ian and I bring with us on vacations to use as towels, skirts, coverlets, etc), because I had wanted to be sure to be able to clean off my feet after wading at Anse Major. I normally don't like to swim at beaches alone--too paranoid about getting my belongings stolen--but I did want to at least feel the water. "Okay," I decided. "I have this kikoy here; I may not use it for anything else--I'll just wrap it around my waist and you can look at my shorts for five minutes. They're very sweaty, just be forewarned."
I duly wrapped my kikoy around my waist and removed my pants. Richard made his limping way around the edge of the room, then spent some time trying to locate his measuring tape. I, who had brought one along with my plane knitting project had, unfortunately, left it back at the hotel. A (male, physically fit) neighbor who had been outside cutting fruits came in and Richard sent him into the next room where, sure enough, one of his daughters had taken the tape measure. It was delivered, and much was made about how large my shorts were, although "you are not a large woman, but maybe a 46 size."
Then Richard started in telling me not to walk on to Anse Major alone. "If you were my wife, I would not let you," he said. "I could ask some man to walk with you, but alone, you will be stolen [read: robbed] or raped. In my 12 years of living here, four times women have come back to me, naked, they were swimming and their clothes were stolen and they were raped. Four times! It is not safe for you to be going alone. I would not allow my wife. These women, they come to me and I call the police for them, and I give them clothes to wear, but there is nothing I can do. But it is not safe. You should not go. Go another time, with a man. A man alone, he might be stolen, but a women alone will be stolen and raped."
I sat there on his sofa, without my pants on, and thought about this. I was not feeling particularly endangered by the environment, or lurkers therein. On the other hand, I was hot and tired and sweaty already, and it was another 1.8 km up and down a relatively steep, stony trail. Richard, also, seemed very insistent, very worried.
"You can go another ten minutes," he proposed. "There is an Indian man putting in a big hotel, lots of workers, and a beautiful view. You would be safe that far, you can take pictures. But then you should come back."
"Okay, okay, fine," I said, yielding. "I'm hot and tired anyway, and I have no interest in being stolen or raped. I won't go. My husband and I have several days together next week, and so we'll come back then." Even though four in 12 years is a pretty small proportion, and even though I wasn't feeling any frisson of fear for my own safety, if I didn't go to Anse Major, I was absolutely assured of not getting raped there. "I'll go and look at the view close by, and then I'll turn around. Can I have my pants back now?"
"Yes, yes, I am done with them!"
I went ten minutes further and spent some time on a huge glacis boulder flying high over the sea below, then turned (marveling a moment at the sheer number of vehicles that had driven this far on this trail) and went back. I waved at Richard as I passed, proving that I hadn't been stolen, and wended my way back to the bus, which I caught about 1pm and took back to Beau Vallon, the village (and beach) where we're staying.
Two days ago Ian and I did have a chance to walk all the way to Anse Major, on an afternoon that he was let out early, and as we passed Richard's house, we saw him in the doorway with his three children, home from school, and the friend feeding the fruit bat with a bit of mango. I thought "well, now he knows I wasn't lying about the husband, and I know he was telling the truth about his kids." And the walk the rest of the way to the beach was long, and was beautiful in an Indiana Jones sort of way--clear brooks babbling and swirling over the glacis boulders or deep under them, tunnels through tumbled rock, rich steaming vegetation and rotting fruits--and the bay itself was exquisitely remote and empty, complete with a blue jewel of a lagoon, coral-littered sands and gnarled, weathered trees and roots curling out over the beach. And a full moon on the way home.
It was very romantic. I was glad to have waited for Ian, regardless.