I have started to fatigue a little on this continent. I remember this fatigue very well from the last time I was here living for a year in Ethiopia. Last time I reached a point where I just didn’t want to be the white man with all the attention that it brings – even for me who usually craves excessive attention!
The attention is not blatantly racist and most of time it’s not malice, it is just a matter of being the one that everyone looks at and has so many preconceptions and stereotypes of. I’m not being overly dramatic here as I know we all have stereotypes that we have to live behind and live with (like being a hippy traveller doing aid work saving the poor people!) but being a white person in this part of Africa is like being the zoo animal and circus attraction 24 hours a day – with no break.
I’m not someone who is afraid of attention or the spotlight but after spending time in Africa I always reach a point where I just want to be anonymous without anyone noticing me.
I understand why people stare, call out, point, but I just wish they would get over it and move on. I remember being a tall white man in Japan in 1996 and the attention was similar but in my local neighbourhood the people got to know me and got used to seeing other foreigners and by the time I returned in 2002 the attention was far less as they had just got used to seeing and interacting with foreigners. Here in Africa I was hoping the same would happen…
In 2008 I lived for a year in a remote village in Ethiopia. My neighbours never got used to me even thought I had followed on from two previous foreign volunteers each who had also been there for a year. This time back in Africa now 5 years later and with a lot more development and certainly far more foreigners now that I am living in Kampala – the attention has not dropped a bit as I might have hoped it would.
I don’t know and I also don’t know how to cope. There is so much I love about Africa but it is not a place I could live forever and personally I think coming here in short bursts of a few months at a time is the best way for me to appreciate the best of the place and not reach the fatigue stage.
I know I could hide in a corner or the rich suburb of Kampala and not expose myself to it all but that is not the way I want to live when in Africa. All I want is to be able to walk to work on the same road I have been using for the past 5 months and not have the same children and dickheads pick me out and call out to me on a daily basis for their amusement and my frustration.
I will always be back for more in Africa but I would be surprised if I could do multiple years in a row or even a year.
My hope is the culture in Africa in this respect will grow up and not see muzungu as a gimmick, source of their own entertainment, someone to ridicule, and at worst a walking cash machine and someone they feel they can constantly rip on and abuse.
In the end it is up to me to fit into Africa not Africa fit around me but after a few months I do struggle with the constant attention and have never found a way to cope except to listen to my radio and largely ignore the world around me – which is being someone I don’t want to be.
Lastly having said all this I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a Muzungu and female as even the local women already get a ridiculous amount of unwanted attention…