Sunday, May 28, 2006

On Being a Well-Known Stranger...

- An American can go nearly anywhere, speak English and get by. Not so true for the tri-lingual Senegalese conversant in Wolof, Pulaar and Jolo. Across the world, American entertainers - 50 Cent, Eminem and J-Lo - are universally recognized. Not so for Celia Cruz and Orchestre Baobab, musicians with several decades experience. Everyone knows when George Bush chokes on a pretzel. Not everyone can name the president of Togo or Nicaragua. I’d hazard to guess that quizzing random American teenagers on “What is Dakar?” might yield a few responses: “A cologne for men.”

“Gringa!” As I lounged, hung over, outside a friend’s cottage in Costa Rica, a small girl labeled me as such, proudly pointing at me from the backyard sink as her mother scrubbed her hair.

“Toubab!” Walk down any street in Senegal, and the children announce your presence, jumping up and down with frantic enthusiasm. Even the ones on their mother’s backs struggle to shape the word. Even at night. Apparently we reflect.


At 7:55 PM, Anonymous bossman2203 said...

Well, you know what they say about all of us looking alike. Maybe that is true for light skinned people also, when out of their native country.

At 12:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't that sweet? Universal terms meaning "whitey". I feel a tear comming on.


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