Because I don’t know if it is.
I walk into the room of my hostel. As I pace around the room, moving my bag out of the locker, the room is silent save for the echos of my flip-flops making contact with the floor. The other backpackers stare at me, studying my every movement. Their eyes flit upwards and downwards. I’m the only one in the room that looks like me, and from the way that I walked around the city today it feels like I’m the only one in the city that looks like me.
The thing I’ve noticed most since I’ve started living in a hostel on my own is the looks that linger for a little longer than they should. I never know what sort of peace I’m disturbing. Am I disturbing the peace because I’m making noise gathering my belongings in a room where people are quietly working? Or am I disturbing the peace in another way? I see on social media friends who look like me who seemed to have a blast making life-long companions while traveling, but some days I can’t even grasp at the courage to get myself out of bed and face the man the next bed over.
The worst thing is the feeling that this paranoia is imagined and constantly questioning whether or not those eyes were wandering around your body. It’s looking at ‘travel blogs’ and every piece of advice out there that teaches you to get away with things by being a ‘gringo’. It’s looking at Nomadic Chad’s blog about how to quit your job and work in Vietnam full-time. Those same blogs make those same men who are sitting on their beds, watching you move your belongings around your room. You look around and wonder if these looks are imagined.
It’s imagined because no one’s denying you service or shouting slurs at you, but you see the visible discomfort in their eyes. Or do you? You don’t have time to evaluate and a fleeting second later it’s gone.
Did it happen? Is this real?