Saturday, August 12, 2017

On being anonymous

I have not been here long enough to miss pizza yet or even have gotten over my jet lag. But I already really miss some things from Michigan.  
Turns out the very first thing I miss from being in the States is being anonymous. I’ve gone for three runs since I’ve been back and I’ve already lost count of the inappropriate comments, the kids yelling at me or the people pointing and laughing.
A few weeks ago, when I was training for the tri, I had decided to go to the beach to do an open water swim workout (in Michigan). On the way there I couldn’t help but think, people don’t go to the beach alone, and they really don’t swim laps back and forth beyond the swim bouys, and people are going to stare at me. But, turns out, it didn’t matter. No one even looked at me twice. (Or if they did it was subtle enough that I didn’t even notice.) And I loved it!
Yesterday while in market several people welcomed me back. Which seems like it should be nice. But the conversations went something like this:  “You’ve been missing!” “Yeah, I went to go visit family.” “Next time, you take me with you!” or “I always want to go to America! Get me a ticket!” I kid you not, roughly some variation of this conversation happened three times. This seems to be a bit of a running joke with Ugandans. But it is not completely a joke. They say it to most foreigners and they mean it. They really want to go to America. But the truth is, very few of them will ever get the chance. So what is my response supposed to be?  Do I just smile and laugh?  However, I’m very sensitive right now to how unequal things are. I don’t find it funny that they will never be able to travel to neighboring Kenya, let alone America. And the truth is, they are actually sensitive to it too. They joke about it but only because it is something most of them really, really want. So, I really don’t like having this conversation. Especially with people whose names I don’t even know and who don’t know my name. Why is it OK that the guy I purchase meat from once a month demand I get him an airline ticket to the US?!! Yet, I can guarantee it will happen many more times this coming week. I would rather walk through market and not have anyone recognize me.
Here is another one. Still in the market, I was having a lady measure out 5 kg of rice for me (which takes a surprisingly long time considering she does it 200 times a day) when the lady in the neighboring stall picked up her toddler and pointed at me and said “See muzungu!?”  This is also very common.  Like if you saw a deer while driving you’d say to you kids “See the deer!?”  But they do it with white people. And they tell their kids that we will eat them if they are naughty.  I am not the bugy man! And I don’t think it is funny when you scare your kids with me.
Anyway, back to the lady measuring rice. While my hands were full with my other market items, and I was trying to make change to pay for my rice, and juggle the 5kg bag she was handing me, her young children, probably six and four came up to me and tried to greet me. They were actually pretty cute but I declined to shake their hands. So as I walked away I heard the two ladies talking about how terribly rude I was. And maybe I am. But I was going to have to set something down on the floor in the market to shake their hands.  And they were filthy. Their hands were covered in grime from playing in the mud. And the truth is those ladies would not have expected any Ugandan to shake their child’s hand in that situation. But all day long I’m expected to greet the children who are screaming greetings at me. Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive about this. But when a group of children in my neighborhood are playing (and they are always in a group!) One will see me and start yelling “Muzungu, Muzungu! How are you?!”  And if I ignore them they eventually go back to whatever they are doing (though not without yelling several more times in case I’m just deaf.)  My neighbors think this is terribly rude. I guess it is. But if I actually respond to them, every single one now has to ask “How are you.” I am not exaggerating. I will have to hear “how are you?” and say “fine” for every child there.  No Ugandan has to do this. Children would never scream at them as they walk or ride by.
And don’t even get me started on the inappropriate comments from young men. Let’s just say that “Hey baby, you’re just my size” is the thing said to me yesterday that bothered me the least. 

Ok, this rant has gone on far long enough.  

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