It’s the touching.

A slight graze of a hand on my shoulder, down my arm. Or sometimes I catch myself watching as his hand slides down her side to her hip and rests there softly, or while dancing, his hands lightly guide her behind to move with him.

It feels pornographic. Not because it is over the top in any way except my own head…only because in rural South Africa –in my rural South Africa- men and women didn’t touch. At all. Men held hands. Women held hands. But I can count on one hand the number of times I saw a man and woman touching intimately and it wasn’t in my village.

Further north and west, my Nigerian ex was cagey about public displays of affection of any kind. Granted, religion complicated the equation but in general he said it wasn’t something you saw much of in Nigeria.

But here is different. Here I watch women sit on the laps of their male friends. And those male friends sandwich her on the dance floor. And it is all in fun. It doesn’t mean anything.

At least I don’t think it means anything.

I asked Gutz about and he let out a hearty bass-filled laugh. “It is just friendship,” he assured me with his hand on my shoulder. And it didn’t feel wrong or inappropriate.

But then tonight, at Gutz’s birthday party I met someone new – someone out of my established context of friendly. The music made it impossible to hear which forced us to sit unnaturally close. And when his hand grazed my leg the first time I assumed it was an accident – and after that…well I wasn’t sure. And it wasn’t a groping of any kind. It wasn’t a caress or anything obviously – well – obviously anything.

But I’ve been conditioned (because South Africa or not, in America touching my leg means something!).

So I moved my leg casually out of range and the conversation continued. But I still can’t tell if that is a universal attempt to get familiar or simply a gesture between new friends or for that matter, simply an accident of proximity.

Because this place is all about the touching it seems. Or rather, my little microcosm seems to be all about the touching.

I danced at Gutz’s party. Speakers set up on his porch with Larry the DJ mixing West African rhythm with the occasional American mix-in. And folks danced, the closeness of bodies working out subtle hip thrusts and pivots. Asses moved in isolation from torsos while legs bent folks lower and lower. All the while the music throbbed.

And it doesn’t look raunchy like a cheap bootyshake video. Instead it looks like flirting. The good kind. Where you push the other person right to the edge of what they are comfortable with and dare them to meet you there. So his hips gyrate in her direction and she meets the thrust –almost – and then spins slowly or he drops lower, head bobbing boob level but without the perversion.

Sometimes it is comical, my tiny Sierra Leonean friend looked a little like a poodle trying to mount a German Sheppard, but he was confident doing it and the Sheppard didn’t seem to mind. Mostly it feels like a good time. Like dancing is dancing and nothing more. Like friendship is familiar and comforting. Like I won’t go two years – or even six months – without a hug or a gesture of physical kindness that doesn’t imply something more.

Of course I’m still new here. Still working through people’s perceptions of me and my perceptions of what I see. Experience will carve out my path and in the meantime I’ll dance like I never do back home – just for the unselfconscious flirting fun of it.

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1 Comment on touchy touchy

  1. Kali says:

    As always, you paint a vivid picture with the brushstroke of your words, and I’m transported to where you are. Wishing I could have been at the party if for no other reason but to watch and muse on it myself. Then of course, talk about it with you afterwards….

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