Many RPCVs (Returning Peace Corps Volunteers) have said they felt like they were living in a fishbowl during their service.
I knew that once I set foot in Kenya that I would get a lot of stares. What I didn’t expect was that I found myself used to the stares almost immediately.
It has bought back memories of being the only deaf person in a classroom of 800 students and being the only deaf person in a school of 1,100 students. The stares I would get from everyone once they saw my hearing aids or saw me signing.
The only difference is that I can hide signing and I can hide my cochlear implants. I can’t exactly hide being white.
What I find the most challenging about the stares is I want so badly to know what is going through people’s minds when they see me.
Sometimes these stares draw comments as well (positive and negative) and I want to know what people say to me as I walk by. I can sometimes tell when they’re saying “hi” and “how are you?” without lip-reading but other than that I have no idea if they’re saying something negative or positive. I have no idea if I should react to hearing a voice or take the risk of appearing rude and continue to walk. Then again, sometimes I’m glad I can’t understand what people are saying. I don’t get drawn into conversations with strangers and I don’t hear the potentially hurtful things people might be saying.
Every once in a while I see a white person not associated with the Peace Corps (I think there’s a group from Europe in town as well). I catch myself doing double takes and I think to myself “What in the world are they doing here?! What do they want?!” Also when I see pictures of myself standing next to a bunch of Kenyans….I realize how much I really do stand out. It’s moments like those that actually make me concerned when people don’t stare at me….people should be curious.
I have been really surprised that the stares haven’t bothered me at this point. Maybe I’m more used to it than I realized I was or maybe it’s too early in my PCV journey.
The only thing that bothers me about the stares (other than the fact it may put me at an increased target for robbery) is that it drives me bonkers not knowing what is going through people’s minds when they see me. What kind of stereotypes do they have? Do they get scared when they see me (I’ve had a couple of young children look terrified but most of them will wave, smile, and follow me)? Do they trust me? What do they see when they see me? What do I look like to them?
Very interesting! Do you feel that the people are generally friendly and smiling at you? Are you by yourself and not with other PCVs? Be safe!
I’m enjoying reading of your adventures in Kenya. I bet you are getting “double stares” 🙂 I think anytime there is someone different, not good different or bad different, just different from the majority of that particular group, it’s human nature to stare…to do a double take. I know it always amazed me when Teresa was little wearing her glasses and eye patch the number of people who would stare, ask what happened, etc. You expect that from young children, but it was often adults who made her feel uncomfortable. Then I think about the times I’ve been a “starer”. One time at the mall there was a couple at the food court who got a lot of stares. People stopped what they were doing and stared. The reason? They both looked like models. They were tall, beautiful, and dressed really nice. Looked like they might be from California (like you could tell from their appearance Ha). I remember thinking at the time how strange it was how people were staring (including me! ha!). I guess we are all a little guilty of it. Human nature I guess. Wanting to know, ask questions, learn, observe. Just my thoughts 🙂 You might work on your tan? Ha!