It’s a phenomenon that I’ve experienced quite a few times. In Athens, Greece a group of teens approached me with much excitement and a camera saying “picture, picture”. I said “sure”, smiled, and reached for the camera. As they gathered around me I realized they wanted to take a picture with me. I was the attraction, not the Parthenon looming behind us! (The picture above is the evidence. My friend captured the scene while the teens captured me. She later commented that they would go home and say “Look Mom! Beyonce!). I asked where they were from and with huge grins and much vigor they exclaimed, “Serbia!”.
In a mall in Alexandria, Egypt a group of young children ran past me. Each of them did a double take as they encountered me. And one by one they came back and walked past me slowly…and just stared.
In a mosque in Istanbul a young woman told me she wanted to take a picture with me because, in her words, she liked my skin.
And those are places with brown people! Let’s not even get started on Croatia!!
I’ve been told, more times than I can count, by Turks, Greeks, Egyptians, and Italians “your skin colour is nice”. I’ve even experienced, in the good ol’ U.S. of A., a bit of staring while visiting spas, National Parks, tea houses, and other places where I guess a young Black woman is not expected. Once I was told that many cultures see darker skin as a sign of wealth. Well, if that’s the case, I’m rollin’ in dough!
To travel throughout the world, even your own country, and be stared at or marvelled at can be frustrating to say the least. I’m not a circus freak. I’m not on display. Yes, my colour is real and there are many others who look just like me. Most times I just laugh, shake my head, and wonder in amazement at the fact that in this day there are still people in the world who have never encountered a Black person face to face. And the fact that I don’t behave in the manner in which we are unfortunately portrayed by “never-been-married housewives” or the “ain’t nobody got time fa’ ‘dat” stereotype is all the more mind-boggling to my “spectators”.
But at this point, I’m happy to be an education to someone. Sure, ask about my hair…BEFORE you reach out and touch it! Just ask. Call me ‘bellissima’. Talk to me and see that we can have a conversation. See me appreciate a culture that is completely foreign to me. Open your mind. Squash a stereotype or pre-conceived notion that you’re holding on to. Cuz guess what? You’re going to see me. In Australia and Thailand and Iceland and Turkey and Japan. You’re going to see me. At destination spas and wonders of the world and tea houses and historical places. You’re going to see me. Falling from the sky or diving deep into the ocean or hiking the side of a mountain or strolling the white or black or pink or red or green beaches. You’re going to see me. And you’re going to see people who look like me. So engage. Experience the diversity in the world. Be respectful…and be open! Make a friend. Bridge a gap. We’re all contributing to the global community and the more we can learn from and about one another, the more understanding we can bring to the world. I have no delusions that my picture with those Serbian teens is going to cure all that ails us. But I can hope that such a small moment gave them a fond memory of their travels to Greece. And that’s enough for me.