Before I came to Nepal, I was not aware that I’m a black man. I thought I was an African. Now, I don’t know how I will behave when I go back to Uganda, what my attitude towards the Asians and White people will be.
Well, a few days ago, I walked out of my house to do some shopping in the bazaar – I grew up in a street called Bazaar Street, which I only found out recently that bazaar is a Hindi word, and this is the only town in Uganda that has elected an Asian MP three times into parliament. that is, in post independence Uganda.
But here I was walking out of my home, and the moment I was out, the staring started. I was rather used to it. Until I ran into a group of boys, maybe between eight and twelve, and they started shouting at me ‘habsi’. That’s the Hindi word for Negro.
I didn’t know what to respond. I kept walking. I thought they used habsi in a rather friendly way, most of them anyway. But these boys then started saying ‘habsi’ and ‘kukur’. kukur being the word for dog (or is it kukura? – though I think that’s the one for chicken, these two words always confuse me) but they would add in English ‘dog’ and ‘black man’ and in Nepali ‘kaalo manche’.
I kept walking, and did not acknowledge them. But I was seething inside, vowing to go straight back home and write a letter to my employers asking them to give me my air ticket back home.
Hardly had I left the boys behind than a man on a rooftop tried to talk to me. He kept saying ‘hello’ and ‘where are you going’ and ‘can I talk to you’ in English, but I was too pissed off to talk to him.
I reached the market, hungry and angry, and there is this girl who shouted at me from across the street ‘Namaste’. I turned to see a twelve year old, her hands clasped together in what would be prayer in a Christian society, but which is a greeting here. And she was smiling at me her broadest. She was selling vegetables at her father’s shop. Her father always tries to cheat me, but her mother gives me vegetables at the Nepali rates, and so does this girl. She probably isn’t more than twelve years old. I liked her smile, so I went over and bought vegetables from her.
Her older brother, maybe thirteen, was with her. He was seeing me for the first time, and his curiosity amused me. The children engaged me in a conversation for almost ten minutes, asking me where I came from and what I was doing in their country, and I asked them about their school and why they weren’t in class. Turns out it was a holiday for them.
Before I left the shop I was resolved to postpone writing that letter for at least a few more weeks. But the moment I turned, there were two girls, about seventeen, walking into the shop. The one in front saw me, and you might have thought that she had run into a lion that was about to devour her.
She gave a loud scream and jumped out of the way, then covered her face as if crying – maybe she was crying in fright. Her scream was so loud that people all over the street turned to see what was happening, but soon word passed that the ‘habsi’ had terrified her.
I didn’t stop to find out how it ended, whether this girl was crying. My old anger was returning, and I didn’t know how much longer I could take this kind of living, where I’m called a dog, and where the sight of me terrifies girls more than a tiger would have terrified them. I just don’t know if I’m able to cope with it much longer.
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