Monday, August 9, 2010

Leaving Diani

I left Diani Beach kicking and screaming. (Not really, but I did pull out that protruding lower lip, leftover from childhood.) We had three glorious days of reading, swimming, snorkeling, stargazing, and listening to the rhythmic Indian Ocean lapping the shore. After a fierce doggy paddle competition (I won!...but I had an unfair advantage thanks to Steve's improperly healed clavicular fracture), Steve noted that we have minds to mold! Discoveries to foment!

As we left Diani Beach at a breakneck speed, I was mesmerized by the blurry images of women in matching chador and kanga sets in tangerine and electric blue, royal purple and bright gold, lime green and fuchsia. Most had a baby strapped to their back, or dangling from a hip while they walked the maze of corrugated tin stalls from which people hawked clothes, fabrics, shoes, books, belts, and produce. We queued up for the ferry to Mombasa, and watched as throngs of people streamed back over to Diani. There were very few walk on passengers headed toward Mombasa, so Steve and I got out of the car to get some fresh air. We caught the attention of several small children who whispered and elbowed each other.

I've noticed there are three distinct reactions I receive from children. The most common is a sequence that goes like this: astonishment, bashful excitement, fear (evidenced by the quick and firm grasp to mom or dad's leg) and then a game of peek-a-boo. The next most common is wide mouthed curiosity followed closely by disinterest. The third is exuberance+reckless abandon, evidenced by a speedy run up to shake my hand. One child on the boat was in the middle of the first response sequence, and her father noticed and prodded her to come and greet us. She greeted us quietly, with the oft repeated phrase "How are you," with a shy smile and a formal handshake in the style reserved for people with high status. This show of respect from a small child was bittersweet. It was sweet because it was an opportunity her father noticed and seized to teach his daughter to demonstrate confidence and good manners. It was bitter because my white skin is the only thing that grants me the high status signaled by her greeting. I am adjusting to the outward displays of respect that remind me of my unearned privilege and of my whiteness, but it is still a bit unnerving. I wanted to tell her that my skin color does not make me respectable or important, but in her world it does.

2 comments:

Rachel said...

another great post - thanks for sharing the moment!

Elizabeth Akins, RDH, BS said...

I love to read things you write.