Thursday, 4 November 2010
All the students, teachers, most of the store owners and ladies at the market all know you, ask how you’re doing, making sure there’s nothing you lack. Walking down the street, people do a double take, then stare at you, unbelieving, before running off to tell their friends. People are always introducing themselves, giving you their phone numbers, because they all want to be your friend. Sometimes they ask to take a picture with you. Sometimes they don’t ask and just not-so-secretly take your picture, anyway.
They, along with other random people, invite you over for spontaneous meals, and, very often, birthdays, family gatherings, weddings, baptisms, any events they can think of, and you have to be careful not to overshadow the event's real guest of honor.
You never have any problem getting a boleia, because every car that possibly can is going to stop to at least chat with you. And when they find out you speak Portuguese – whoa! You’re officially their new best friend, and although they're going in the exact opposite direction they'll go two hours out of their way to take you wherever you need to go. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to stop the cobrador from kicking someone else out of a full chapa so I could take her seat.
People know your every move, and after some conversations, you often feel pretty sure you were the topic of dinnertime conversation (“I knew you were just friends with that guy, but my husband insisted you were dating because you visited his mother the other day! Just had to ask!”) One of the first phrases I learned around here is “Esta desaparecida!” – “You disappeared!” Meaning they don’t know what you’ve been up to for the past two days and need you to explain yourself so they can relate it to their equally curious friends and relations.
Yep, being a celebrity is quite the experience.
And then one day, you realize…I’m not Julia Roberts. I’m the two-headed man-eating bearded midget lady from Mars.
I have white skin, and as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve got red hair and green eyes – I’m pretty much a freak of nature around here.
When I’m invited to parties and gatherings, instead of being the guest of honor or surprise birthday rap artist, I’m invited as one invites the magician or clown.
When I ride down the road, people don’t shout my name. Most of the time, they don’t know my name, don’t care to know it or care if I have one. I am mulungo. In fact, Louise and I have created a game of counting the number of times we hear people shout “mulungo” at us on our half-hour bike ride to the preschool (“Wow, twenty-three today! That’s a new record! That last one couldn’t even walk yet!”).
Kids will come from out of nowhere to try and touch my skin and hair to see if it comes off before running giggling back to their posse.
You can never really be sure who honestly sees you as a friend and who sees you as a potential plane ticket or VISA to the magical kingdom of the United States of America (one student in my computer class did an entire PowerPoint presentation on how his life dream is to marry an Americana so he can live in the U.S., where life is so easy).
I don’t have to be seen as a celebrity. But every once in a while it would be nice to be seen as a human being.
Posted by Valerie Cooper at 00:39