A Space for Writers of the World
from: The Men Are Protecting Us
I woke and pulled the plugs from my ears. I sat up and looked out of my car windows to people walking and cradling cups of steam. Gathering my warm gear into a bundle, I opened the door and stuck my legs out to begin pulling on more layers. Once fully armed for the near freezing morning, I walked with my ceramic mug in hand towards the steaming cups. Behind a clump of people, I weaved through large thermoses of hot water and coffee. I focused on warmth and filled my cup, then turned around.
A woman stood looking at me and asked, “water?” She held a blue ceramic and metal pitcher.
“Oh, no thank you. I just got some,” I said.
She asked again, “Water?”
“Oh, ah, no. Thank you,” I said and pointed to my mug, “I just got some.”
She released me from her gaze and moved to the man next to me. “Water?” she said to him.
He nodded and held out his open palms. She poured a small amount of water in his hands and he bowed as he splashed it onto his exposed face. Something clumsy and thick thudded down my throat. I looked around to see who noticed my first white-person-blunder. There was no shame-glancing.
The woman with the blue pitcher announced that we would be walking down to the river to do the Morning Prayer. She asked the elders to come in the front and all others to follow. Another woman began singing a song that we were all instructed to repeat. I followed along with thirty-some-winterized folks. We traveled down the dirt road lined with tribal flags of different designs. I kept having to stop short to avoid running into the two young men in front of me. Each kept bending down to pick up small bits of trash, placing them inside their pockets. I followed suit and began scanning the ground, looking for small bits to pick up.
We stopped at each crossroad. In this developing city, the woman with the water gave offerings to small groups of people who joined our prayer walk. As we reached the water, there were about one hundred people. She then asked the men to form lines on both sides of the muddy hill. There was a small pier made of pallets that hovered over the Cannon Ball River. The men helped the women traverse the trail to pray at the water’s edge.
As I got closer to the tunnel of men, I began to see their soft faces—their bodies relaxed and alert. The women held out their hands as men held each palm and ushered each female downhill, delivering, hand-to-hand, man-to-man. As I got closer to the tunnel, I stood taller, feeling a sense of royalty when accepting the first man’s hand.
I placed my right hand upon his and looked into his soft brown eyes. He was probably 35, with weathered white skin. He did not smile awkwardly or shyly at me. We just looked at one another. I said thank you and he nodded, while closing his eyes. I placed my left hand in the tall, white, thin, bearded man’s hand. His gentle eyes were green and smiled at me.
“Thank you,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” he said, bowing.
I released my right hand and gave it to the next man in line. He was probably in his early twenties. His brown eyes revealed a stillness inside, the kind of stillness that I imagined would be in the depths of the dark and silent ocean. I swam inside his gaze and sunk under the currents of my thoughts. A bow started in my heart and tilted my chin, bringing my eyelids together. Thank you poured from the crown of my head as my nostrils trembled from the rumblings of breath and rising tears. I inhaled deeply and my stomach squeezed up into my diaphragm and past my throat, pushing out tiny drops of tears. My left hand danced and landed in the open palm of the next man as my left foot lost some ground beneath me. My palm felt pressure and seemed lifted as I pressed down and regained balance.
“Thank you,” I said.
A stocky brown skinned man nodded and continued to steady me. He passed my hand to the next man in line. I held and was held by maybe twenty-five sets of hands, hearts and eyes—all colors and shapes. Most of their hands felt soft, open, not tense, nor grabby. Each looked me in the eyes as if they saw a precious being, not an object of stimulation. There was no feeling of yearning. No one wanted to take from me. It appeared they truly wanted to serve the feminine. My breath relaxed deeper and I felt dignity rise from my spine. I felt safe.
When each woman finished offering Tabaco, water, and prayer to the river, we stood at its edge. The woman who carried the water then asked if there were any others who identified as female, who wanted to pray. A heavy-set woman with short blonde hair capered down the tunnel of men and towards the water. Her smile stretched along the horizon, as all eyes witnessed her journey to pray. The water carrier asked if there were anyone else. A tall, dark-skinned, male-bodied woman with long dark hair floated down the runway like a butterfly attracted water. She twisted and turned to greet each hand. The water carrier then asked for the men to come to the water and pray as the women sang.