teach something: day nine

“Maybe it’s a description of how to replace the oil in the car or why you think every college should study abroad. Whatever it is, put the reader’s needs first; enter his/her worldview the best you can, and communicate something important.”

I’ve honestly spent the past 20 minutes scouring my brain for some inspiration, or some concept that I’m particularly knowledgeable about and all I’m being delivered from the Mothership is snarky little one-liners like “How to Avoid People Like a Pro”, or the slightly less sarcastic “Ten Tips for Surviving Life in the African village”. The prompt told me to think of your needs, readers, but I’m not sure that anyone is immediately trying to disappear or live without indoor plumbing. So instead I thought I’d touch on something nice and controversial (it’s a August miracle).

3 Things You Can Learn By Being the “Foreigner” for a Change; A Topic I’ll Probably Revisit Another Time to Expound Upon if I’m Brave Enough

1. You learn what it feels like to have everyone in the room look at you and know that you’re different based on how you look.
I’m a white girl, and I was born and raised in America, granted all kinds of privilege that I’ve never worked for. Rarely in my circles growing up was I in crowds of other ethnic groups, and I never really realized it. I’d never been the token white girl–until I traveled, first to Singapore and then to Tanzania. I’d felt invisible for most of my life and suddenly it was like the spotlight flipped on and I couldn’t turn it off. I watched people notice me. I stood out, and it was a toss up as to whether it was positive or negative attention each time.

2. You learn what it feels like to suddenly become the representative for your entire culture.
When I arrived in Singapore, I didn’t even realize what it would feel like to be the only American in the room. I was suddenly inundated with questions and generalities about my “culture”; I had people as me why I was so skinny “because Americans are supposed to be fat”. I sat through sermons where America was essentially referred to as Babylon, which admittedly it really seems like compared to a country where people are charged with drug trafficking for possessing 15 grams of cannabis. I’d have to sit there while everyone turned to me and I became responsible for the sins of my nation. I didn’t even feel American when I was in America; every time I entered the room in Singapore I felt like I was driving a vintage muscle car, wearing a jean jacket and blaring “Bad to the Bone”, hamburger in hand.

How you look to everyone as an American traveling overseas.
How you look to everyone as an American traveling overseas.

3. You learn that the double standard that supposedly never existed actually does exist, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
Once I learned the average prices of things in the village in Tanzania, I realized who was trying to pull one over on me. Mamas coming to sell me their chickens would ask for 14,000/= (about $9 USD) instead of the average price of 8,000 to 10,000/= ($5 to $6 USD). In the beginning I didn’t know better, and really a few dollars is petty, but to me it was the principle. I didn’t think I should have to pay more just because I’m the foreigner and I’m supposed to have more money.
On the flip side, everyone I met thought I was qualified to be a doctor, an English teacher, a farmer, a midwife, etc. People thought more of me and my abilities based on where I was from and what I looked like. It wasn’t fair, either, but it benefitted me by giving me opportunity and prestige that I didn’t earn or deserve.
Sometimes it made me sick–sitting at the hospitals with our friends I’d be approached by African staff and brought to the front of the line because I was white. They’d act like my African companions like peasants, until they realized they had come with me seeking medical treatment. My skin would itch and my face would burn, and I’d be so ashamed of myself and I couldn’t even apologize to anyone. What would I have apologized for? Not being able to fix something doesn’t mean you don’t realize something is wrong.

I think we’ve got something here, guys. Would it be even a little interesting for me to touch on this again? Or should I shut my mouth?


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