Living here, I find I cycle between feeling very comfortable and, dare I say it, assimilated (as much as such a thing is possible), and feeling totally out-of-place and exhausted with sticking out. This is a stream of consciousness on the latter:
A foreign feeling for me, who always wanted so much to stand out;
Now here, hard as I may try, I could not hope to blend in,
And though it is freeing at times and instructive at others,
Sometimes, I would like to be invisible.
Anonymity—a luxury I never appreciated—suddenly seems so very appealing:
To spend a day where no cars screech to a stop to watch me pass, and no strangers want to talk to me simply because I am white (or foreign, or tourist, or moneyed or different… it’s all the same. And it is because I am white and foreign; I watch the women walking here, and no one wants to talk to them)…
To spend a day anonymous; to slip under the water of hyper-conscious observation and simply watch for a change; to sit on the bus in silence—what a day that would be.
Sometimes, when every day is a crowded audience for which I perform my life, I wouldn’t mind stepping into the shadows and only watching for a while.
But I can’t.
You can’t watch without being watched. You can’t be an observer without creating ripples through the world you observe. I think physics taught us that.
You can’t be a white woman in Africa without recognizing the remnants of colonialism. (Irrelevant that at my ancestors were far removed at the time, living their lives in Eastern Europe at the time. I am still a white woman in Africa, here.) You can’t be a tourist without accepting that your money talks and it’s saying, “come talk to me.” You can’t be a foreigner without relinquishing your right to anonymity.
Or maybe you can, but I haven’t figured out the secret. I will have to do without invisible days and unobserved observation, as I do without good cheese and potable tap water. Luckily, I have a vivid imagination—sometimes I pretend laughing cow is really a luscious Camembert, and sometimes I pretend the shouts and stares are all imaginary, and the beach is really a calm and peaceful oasis.
It’s all perspective, anyway.