“Is that your real hair?”

Wow, I have never felt more like some sort of exotic circus animal than in the last few hours. It was one of the funniest things that have ever happened to me.

I spent an afternoon in a small village not far from Lake Nakuru (I’ll tell you about the national park next time… with pictures, promise!) at an aunt’s place (my hostdad’s eldest sister, if you really care) while the hostdad went to do some politics in the area. I hadn’t been there ten minutes when two girls came in, saw me, started giggling incessantly and sat down on the couch opposite me, whispering to each other in rapid Kikuyu. For a while, we sat in amused and somewhat awkward silence… I was reading something and everytime I looked up at them, they turned their heads away really fast and started laughing again. I smiled encouragingly each time and eventually the younger one dared to smile back at me. With the ice broken, I started asking their names and how old they were – Faith is twelve and the younger one, who I understood was called Meri, is eight. I’m phrasing it this way because her name could have just as well been either Miri or Mary, with their English it was hard to tell. I told them my name and we lapsed back into silence, until after a lot more giggling  and staring, eventually the older one asked: “Is that your hair?”I blinked, not sure what she was asking. “I mean, your real hair?” When I told her it was, more giggling and whispering ensued, and eventually they ventured off their couch over to where I was sitting, so that they could touch my hair.

I’m not sure if they’ve met a “mzungu”, a white person, before, but it seems they definitely haven’t had a chance to touch one, and my hair and skin were utterly fascinating to them. They examined my hands in great detail (I assured them the green nails weren’t natural but a nailpolish, which seemed to reassure them a little bit), all the while chattering in Kikuyu and sometimes Swahili. I understood a word here and there, usually “mzungu”, but I have no idea what exactly their conclusions on my skin and hair were. I’d never before thought of my birthmarks as something extraordinary, but when they found the first one, they were almost unstoppable in looking for as many as they could find. Besides that, the fact that you can see the veins of a white person through their skin seemed to be exciting and scary at the same time.

At some point, I made the “mistake” of getting my camera out to show them the pictures of the park I had just been in, and the few pictures of my family that I had on it. The moment they saw the camera, everything else was forgotten. I spent most of the afternoon taking their pictures, posing so they could take pictures of me, explaining how the camera worked, showing every single picture I took to both of them, giving them the camera so they could take pictures of every poor unsuspecting visitor that walked into the room (and there was quite a steady flow of them!), and, although I tried not to panic, running after them to make sure they didn’t break my beloved camera. I’m not sure whether my mzungu-ness or my camera was the bigger sensation, but I have a feeling that my sudden appearance made their day. I’m also not sure whether I enjoy being the object of constant attention (and a lot of touching!), but those two were so adorable, I couldn’t help but be glad that I entertained them for an afternoon.

Here’s one of the many, many pictures we took:

Meri and Faith

For those of you that are on Facebook, there will be an album soon with a lot more pictures, but I just wanted to give you a little impression of my first real “mzungu” experience… eye-opening, thought-provoking, and definitely funny… I like those kids. I hope they grow up to decent jobs and their own place to live… the younger one doesn’t know how to read yet, and the older one doesn’t read very quickly, but at least it seems that they do go to school, and that’s really the most important thing. I wonder if I’ll see them again…


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