Today, I was returning home, really tired, from another day of doing nothing at the office. As usual, I was trying to wad off the unsettling stares from the streets. That’s the worst thing about being a foreigner in Nepal, and in my case, the only black man in a rural town of Nepal. A town where some people are seeing an African man for the very first (and probably last) time in their lives. They stare at you until you feel like you’ve walked into Alfred Hitchcock’s movie set, when he was making that horror film, the birds. They make you feel like they are the killer birds patched on telephone wires, watching you — no, they remind me of the vultures I saw in a picture about famine in Sudan, the vultures that sat still on rocks waiting for the starving children to die.
And today, the stares took on a new dimension.
There is this woman with a baby, about two years old, or less. Not a talking being. She pointed me out to her baby – not unusual, they are always doing that. If two are walking down the street and one sees me, that one will poke the friend and say urgently “look! look!” or that’s what I think they say. If it’s girls, they will end up giggling. Well, this woman tells the baby, “look! look!” and the baby looks at me. Naturally, I give the baby a smile, and the baby smiles back, but the woman whispers something else, and all of a sudden, the baby starts to howl.
Now, I wonder what she told the baby about me. I suspected it had something to do with me eating people. Because I’m the blackest thing they both have ever seen. Or maybe she told the baby that I’m the boogeyman who creeps under her bed at night.
Whatever it is that she told the little child, she started to tease the baby, threatening to push the baby at me, and the baby cried in sheer terror, while the woman laughed her heart out.
For a brief second, I thought about impregnating that woman with a very black child.
Maybe tomorrow I’ll write the other eight.
(It is 2014, and I’m ashamed of my thoughts. Please, see the apology below.)
Five days after posting this article, I was chatting with an Indian friend, a fellow volunteer but who lives in another town. Below is a transcript of our conversation.
Pragya: What can I say! To the incidence or to your reaction!…. No, (I rather keep quiet) because my comment would be adverse to your reaction rather than to the incident. Learn to ignore Dila
Me: Why my reaction?
Pragya: In my personal opinion, you grossly over- reacted
Me: An indian friend of mine says she was walking in new york last week and someone called her “slumdog!:
Pragya: Yeah because those bloddy Yuppies hsve only seen this one movie tht is called “Slum Dog Milionoire
Me: Haha! Now see your reaction!
Pragya: She should have replied by saying Thank you so much, U son of a Bush!
At least I’m not talking about gracing their filthy minds and bodies with my touch
UPDATE: 22nd September 2014
I want to delete this post, for I’m ashamed of my reaction. I wish I could meet this woman and apologize to her for having such evil thoughts. I’m terribly sorry to all Nepalis for what I wrote. I made many friends there, and you may be surprised to learn that this woman was my friend. I was actually going to her home when the incident above happened. I did not include the details of my relationship with her at that time for I did not want to offend her and her family. Now, I cannot say more on what I was going to do at her home for the same reason. After this incidence, I stopped going to her home.
Actually, that same day, I refused to enter her home. Even as the baby was screaming, she came to me smiling, laughing, and welcoming me into her home, but I couldn’t enter. ‘What’s wrong?’ she said. ‘Why won’t you come in? Are you angry with me?’ I walked away without another word.
Now, when I look back, I see my reaction was uncalled for. I did right in walking away, but I should not have thought about what I thought about. Maybe I should not have been rash to write it down for the whole world to see. But at that time, no one was reading my blog apart from a handful of friends like Pragya, and I did not think strangers would read it and send me hate mail.
It makes me want to take it down. But I won’t, and not because I’m proud of what I said, but because I am only human. We all have a dark side, and we can easily slip off to the evil side at the slightest provocation. At the time I wrote this, I had not read Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, nor did I know of what influenced it, of the atrocities in Darfur where light-skinned men of Arab origin used rape as a weapon of war against dark-skinned women of Sub-Saharan origin. They raped the women with the purpose of impregnating them with light-skinned babies. You can read the horrors of that ethnic cleansing. We Want to Make a Light Baby
I only got to read Nnedi’s book this year, and as I read it, it felt like looking into a dark mirror and seeing my evil self grinning at me. It scares me. I’m no different from those Arab militia-men. If I had power, if I had guns, would I have raped this Nepali woman with ethnic cleansing in my mind? This question has given me countless nightmares.
I thought I was a nice guy. I thought I was a great guy, one of the good guys. I thought I was an ordinary African man whose only ambition was to tell stories. Then I went to Nepal, to tell the story of inter-caste marriages, and for the first time in my life I became the color of my skin. I stopped being Dilman, the boy from Tororo, and became Kalo Manche (black man). I became Habsi (Negro, or Nigger). I was called Raati (Night), Kukur (Dog), Bhoot (ghost). I was denied entry to a restaurant once, in the Eastern Nepali city of Biratnagar, and teenage girls screamed in terror on seeing me, as though they had seen a monster. Other girls laughed at my face. I once heard one sigh in horror, saying ‘oh babababa kasto kalo!’ which would translate to ‘Oh my God. How black!’ I hated myself for learning the language, for then I knew what they are saying, and I knew why they are laughing, and I knew why that girl screamed in terror as though she had seen a ghost.
Almost every day, I asked myself why I put up with it, why I didn’t just pack up my bags and return to Africa, to a world where I was not treated like shit because of my skin color. I wanted to give up many times, but I stayed on, even as evil thoughts whirled in my head. I can’t excuse myself, for thinking like that, and I hope Nepali people who read this will not think evil of me. The thing is that I did not quit Nepal simply because some people were treating me as though I was a monster. I stayed on until July of 2011. I made some good friends that last until today, and I met really incredible people who made me see that a few people should not spoil my opinion of Nepal. I met a girl who I fell in love with and for the first time in my life I thought about settling down to a wife and having children. I even surprised myself by writing a romance Novella, Cranes Crest at Sunset, based on my two years in Nepal.
Being the writer that I am, I tried to make light of the terrible experiences I endured. I wrote blog posts that some people read and think I had a great time in Nepal. I even confronted some of the girls. ‘Kina haseko (why do you laugh?) I remember asking one of them, at a shop near Raatophul in Dhangadi town, where I was staying. ‘Have you seen a ghost?’ The young woman fled. A man followed her, saying, ‘Come back here! He is asking you a question. Why did you laugh?’ But she only continued laughing. The man then came back to me and said, ‘Don’t mind her. She is just a little girl.’ Though she was nearly twenty. I did take comfort in such words. I did try to wish it all away, to convince myself that they treated me like this not because they were racists, but simply because I was living in a rural area and they had not been exposed to black foreigners.
The trauma of those two years runs deep. I sometimes fail to speak in public. I sometimes find myself being very nervous when talking to people. There is an actor friend who I cannot to talk to without feeling jittery, and it’s all because I lived in a fish bowl for two years. A terrible fish bowl where I was not treated like the favorite pet, but rather like a monster.
Yesterday, I launched my first collection of short stories, A Killing in the Sun, at the Storymoja Festival in Nairobi, Kenya. I had not realized how much my experiences in Nepal had influenced my writing until I noticed that two of the stories in the collection are based in a futuristic Africa where racism is at its worst. If you ever get a copy, read A Wife and a Slave, and Lights on Water. Both are in a world I don’t want to think about, for its humanity at its worst, but I have to tell these stories, to remind myself, and those who happen to read this page, that we are all just a step away from evil.
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|Why do they laugh?|
|Water! Water! I’m burning up!|
|finally I take a shower|
|A clash of color to change lives|