Whitey in Fiji, 1977
I've never really liked being white. When I was five years old I lived in Fiji for a year - none were whiter than me. I was teased, and felt ashamed because of the colour of my skin. Look at that Glaswegian skin. It takes about two minutes in the sun before it starts to burn.
A few years ago I went to a supermarket in Indonesia, and came across an entire aisle of skin lightening lotions. Outraged and shocked, until I remembered the entire aisles of fake tanning lotions back at home. What the hell even IS the ideal colour? Caramel?
In Fiji we had a live-in maid. Like, a servant. I remember being treated differently when we'd go out as a family. Like we were more important or something. We weren't, and I knew we weren't even at the ripe old age of five. Not everybody thinks like that, though. Some people think that the colour of your skin dictates your worth.
White people probably have a backpack full of ignorance around this, and then ignorance around our ignorance. Why dissect the pecking order if we are the ones standing at the top of the pecking order?
Last week, I stood in the World Vision offices and turned to Richenda to ask her a question.
"Ok, so, just letting you know I'm completely ignorant in a lot of ways. Hugely simplistic question ... why does Africa have to struggle SO much?"
She said there is so much in that question. Shet didn't have time to begin answering it.
I forgot a zero, in my Zenouba post yesterday. It's not 40,000 children living malnourished in Niger ... it's 400,000. Adel emailed me SO politely, asking me to clarify. My ignorance and lack of knowledge borders on blatant offensiveness. Wrapping my brain around what's going on here, how World Vision and other aid agencies are helping, and then filtering that information out into the world via my blog using a writing style best suited to my readership of mainly white western people is proving quite tricky. Also worthwhile. A krillion thanks, to everybody who has supported this trip this week.
Yesterday we travelled for hours, to a remote village near Terra. We spoke to a midwife, a mother of a newborn, and also a pregnant woman. About their level of care, their living conditions, what it's like to be them. I was tired and dusty and completely over it. I didn't like how the village smelt, how claustrophobic I felt. Witnessing the Niger people's harsh living conditions is hard for a whitey.
We asked the pregnant woman where her farmer husband was, she said he is "Gone, to find food or work." We asked how much crops he reaped this year. She looked kind of surprised that we didn't know. "None." None. I thought of the fundraising venture for my son's preschool - cute little packets of seed for sale. If we had any left over, we returned them to the front office. Surplus seeds, back in my surplus society.
I realised that this situation is not an upcoming food crisis. It's a food crisis ... the third one Niger has had in ten years. World Vision and other aid organisations are actively working together now, before it goes into a full-scale famine. Nobody wants a famine.
When I told a few people that I'd be writing about the "upcoming" food crisis in Niger, I was met with a few raised eyebrows. "Isn't there always a food crisis over in Africa?"
I don't know - is there? Why? What can we do to help? Whose fault is this? Whizzing through the car and getting accosted by so many sights, I look at people and wonder. Are they severely malnourished or just moderately malnourished? Are they just regular every day poor people, or are they on the poverty line? WHO'S IN CHARGE HERE.
Then I see the difference being made, the Good being done, and I'm heartened again.
There was a while yesterday where I just aimlessly walked around the village. The children would follow me, and I made sure to take my sunglasses off so they could see my eyes. Like when I'm back at home standing in line at the deli counter, or ordering in a cafe .. I always take my sunnies off. It's the polite thing to do. I was living dangerously yesterday and had on my pink Havainas, instead of sensible closed shoes. Suddenly I spy a teenage girl with pink thongs on as well. I rushed over to her to take a photo of our feet, together.
"Same same!" I said, like a grinning fool. She was proud as punch, and followed me around for the rest of my time there. She didn't know a word of English but kept pointing to her shoes, mimicking me. "Same same! Same same!"
Reminded me of sitting next to my Fijian friends at recess, laughing but also not caring at the colour of our skins. Same same.
This is my last day. THANK GOD. I've been ready to go home as soon as I arrived here. I'll post once more, from Africa ... before my flight leaves at the beautiful time of 1.55am. My heart has been here all along, but my head is just starting to catch on - it's like, heyyyy, what the hell? Yesterday I fell asleep in the car on the way back to the hotel. When I woke up, I looked out the window and what I *thought* was the plains near Penrith and the Blue Mountains were *actually* the plains of Africa.
Cue the biggest internal spinout I've had in a very long time. Panic attacks are Universal, yo.