The content and opinions found on this blog are mine alone, and do not reflect any position of the United States Government or the Peace Corps.

May 29, 2010

All Eyes on Me

It's weird to be a celebrity.

On the one hand, always being at the center of attention encourages a kind of cocky self-confidence. It's not so much arrogance as it is a healthy, jovial, devil-may-care attitude that comes with feeling important. I step into a bar and suddenly the reggaeton music videos on TV are no longer the most interesting thing in the room. Heads turn, and hands reach out to shake my comparatively albino ones. A spot just for me magically opens up between the men on the bench; I grab an Eagle (my brew of choice) and sit down in it. I find myself in five simultaneous conversations in three languages. Some guy offers me his daughter. Another wants to show me his dance moves. A third asks me to buy him a drink. No, Jean Pierre, even though the house waragi is only 600 shillings, (a) despite being white, I'm broke, (b) you're wasted, and (c) didn't that stuff blind like 30 people in Kabale last month?

Living centerstage promotes self-confidence, but also self-consciousness. This is especially true when your appearance is the primary reason why you're the focus of attention in the first place. Let me put things in perspective: I haven't seen a single other white person in three weeks. And that was when I visited my PCV friends in Fort Portal. When I walk down the street, people look at me like I'm some kind of exotic animal, certainly not one of their own species. Every move I make is subject to the scrutiny of every single person that sees me. If I go on a run, or bike to the market, my friend Jotherm will know about it within two hours, because the women selling tomatoes on the corner (his spies, no doubt) will tell him. When you stick out as much as I do, you simply cannot live in anonymity. It doesn't matter what I'm doing; whether I'm gnawing on sugarcane or reading Mark Twain's Roughing It on the front porch, a group of little kids will be staring with rapt attention, curious if that alien lifeform chews his 'cane the same as them. This is uncomfortable and makes way me more conscious of my appearance and actions than I'd like to be.

At times, I hide in my house for hours to escape the eyes. I watch Six Feet Under with headphones, cook with my doors shut and locked, or listen to the BBC World Service on shortwave until the top news headlines have been repeated thrice. But inevitably, these activities become lonely and I have to go out for some human contact, even if it means being watched.

Forget teaching physics to a class of 120, dodging potholes on my bike in the pitch-black darkness of night, the mosquitoes, the long, sweaty taxi rides, and the monotonous Ugandan cuisine. Not being able to to live a private life remains the biggest challenge I've faced during my service. If you've ever been famous, you'll know what I'm talking about.

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