Monday, August 30, 2010

utterly otherly

to all those who have traveled to far off places and felt like an alien landing from outer space: i totally get you now. sure, i’ve been an “other” plenty of times before (from being dubbed the “exotic princess” in college, to being ridiculed by my own people in iran for my manner of speech and system of beliefs), but never have i felt so completely different than i have during my trip to uganda.

on the one hand is the peculiar interest that i have garnered all over the countryside, simply for being “white”. adults stare, little children trail me rubbing my skin or yanking my hair, and everyone everywhere raises the alarm that “mzungu!” (ugandan for “whitey”) has arrived the minute i touch down in the villages. a talking dog would have caused less curiosity. although strange, and in a way reminiscent of what life as a b-list celebrity might be like, this type of attention has been harmless for the most part.

what’s really bothered me is the elevated status i’ve been awarded next to my own peers, for lack of any qualification other than my appearance. during my work travels, it was a given that i would always be offered the front seat, the largest hotel room and first consideration for times to rest, eat, whatever. this, in spite of being in the company of much more senior personnel (both in age and professional standing) from the ministry of health and partner organizations. while ugandans are quite a friendly and hospitable people, i have a hard time believing that was the true origin or sole motivation of this behavior (maybe they thought i expected even demanded such treatment? and there were times i could swear that even my companions were reluctant to be seen with me, loathing the added attention i brought to every mundane task.

i have no deep, sweeping commentary on the whole thing. i can only say that i’ve been disturbed by it, and can now sympathize with all my fellow sideshow freaks. sorry, bearded lady, i never knew you had it so tough…

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