The beautiful thing about my arrival in Merida was the opportunity to see myself as someone who feels the urge to panic, but doesn't yield to it. I arrived in the rain with my backpack ready to make the simple walk to my hostel. Merida was fairly busy, I had a map and a had booked in advance. Things were good.
As dusk dimmed the day I was still walking. Still trudging the loop of blocks I had been circum navigating for over an hour unable to locate the alley my hostel was on. My printed map was now smudging in the rain. This neighbourhood was quieter than the main square and there were notably less people about. Eventually I found an American couple who I wouldn't let go until they led me to my hostel.
The dorm was open plan, I did not expect a giant man from the Ivory Coast to arrive, but he did. I was also quite surprised when he took a shower (I repeat, open plan dorm) and shouted at me to get him his towel. Once dressed, he was quite specific about me definitely not looking in his briefcase. When I showed a total lack of interest, he flashed the case open. It was stuffed full of dollars. Spooked, I left the dorm and set out to find something to eat.
At the diner, the soup waiter managed to get my name out of me and tried to get me to the night market with him. The next day a polite artist, after accompanying me around an art gallery, wanted me to get onto his bicycle so that he could take me to his truck for a city tour. Both men used shaming and guilt and then ridicule as tools to try to bend me to their will. When I returned to my dorm Ivory Coast Giant demanded that I go to Cancun with him to go dancing that night and then back to his country to be his girlfriend - 'because a woman travelling alone is always in danger'. He also explained that I couldn't be his wife because he was already married. He was sure his wife would not mind me being his girlfriend.
I was calm and firm, when batting these strange and slightly coercive flirtations away. Things could (maybe) have gotten more sinister with each encounter, but they didn't. It was waring and I didn't want to sleep in the same room as a man who had pestered me to be his mistress. After a night of blinking hyper vigilance rather than sleep in the same room as him, I moved hostel. As I lay awake in my last night at that first hostel in Merida, I recognised that I was transforming.
I could feel an internal robustness growing. Completely on my own (with no mobile phone) thousands of miles from anyone I knew and in a totally foreign landscape I had a sense that I couldn't afford the vulnerability of panic or fear - somehow I began to disconnect from these feelings. I still felt luminously foreign. I also felt a sense of duty to myself. After everything it had taken to be doing this, I couldn't allow myself to waste any of it by being afraid.
My focus and memories of that brief stretch in Mexico (even now) feel preoccupied with the idea I had that I was constantly in danger. I wanted the truth to be that my gender had nothing to do with my ability to travel alone or not. The trouble was that I didn't really know yet whether I was up to it.
Disassociating from my fear was allowing me to dive into the visual world - or perhaps it worked the other way around, the more I focused on noticing my external surroundings, the less I had to inhabit my frightened inner space. I was gradually looking up and around me and immersing myself in taking photographs.