“ All you see in me is a potential client. How can I ever get to know you, your life, your culture? Obviously, I’m nothing but a walking wallet to you. Just because I’m white you think I’m loaded. That’s bullshit.”
Of all countries I traveled through the last two months, I had to loose my laughter in the Gambia, also known as “the smiling coast”. The Rastafarian, who just wanted to sell me a boat trip, stood speechless in front of me. I was a little surprised myself by the force of my emotional outburst. What's happening? The intention was to make friends with the locals, not enemies.
On my travels through nine African countries I experienced an openness and hospitality that irritates me sustainably... in a positive way. But I also experienced what it feels like to be the only white person everywhere and to get permanently reduced to my skin color. Toubab, Ferengi, Mzungu, were the words that were called to me on the street. All those names refere to my white skin. A valuable experience. I haven’t known how gruelling it is, to be the only one of my kind. My pigmentation has made it either hard for me to interact with the locals without inhibition or left me completely without a chance. That was new, since up until now, only my sex organs could provoke such a situation.
Lighter skin is also associated with a thick wallet and therefore attracts big swarms of sellers of all kinds. Ripoff attempts are on the agenda. The image of the “rich white”, is reinforced by the film industry. The majority of the white actresses in films and soaps broadcasted here, play a character with a privileged life. Fiction and reality mix. By African standards, the average income of an European is astronomical. The fact that living costs are likewise higher, is difficult to convey and does not change the utopian image of Europe. Many young Gambians and Senegalese still die trying to flee to Europe.
Even though the countries I have traveled, are in the beginning of an exciting balancing act between progress and tradition, corrupt power structures, among other things, prevent young people from exhausting their potential. They are without perspective. I’m fortunate enough to have been born a bit northerly. I am privileged because I have a good education and a health insurance. Me and the Rastafarian - named Malcom by the way - are not the same. It would be ignorant to say so.
The question I have to ask myself on the paradisiacal west coast of Africa, between the fishing harbor and the tourist hotel, between the first and the third world: Can I, as a privileged white complain when I’m reduced to my origins - with the knowledge of the current distributional injustice and the knowledge of history, in which millions of Africans lost their dignity, freedom or even their lives?
Despite the fact, that I was throwing my frustration in the face of an innocent person, which on top turned out to be the most liberal and hospitable brother one could find in the Gambia, it was good to seek dialogue and tell him how I felt. It created awareness and understanding on both sides. Malcom might have never invited me home and introduced me to his brothers if I hadn’t lost it. We would have never become friends and would not have sat together by the fire that same evening to sing songs by Bob Marley. Just to realize that we are more similar than we think.
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