‘However, in Swaziland, I found the people and their activities to be quite familiar- so much so that I often grew bored. Yes, there are cultural differences, including cultural events that are unique to the region, but the day to day life of a Swazi closely mirrors that of those in the Western world.
Swazis are normal people with normal worries – people who think about school, getting to work on time, music, relationships and popular culture like everyone else.
The country, just like the US, is diverse. There are city people and rural people, the affluent and the less fortunate, the good, the bad, the lazy, and the hard-working. More importantly, through it all everyone manages to stay fully clothed and the spears stay tucked away. I wondered why this side of Africa was never shown.
But the biggest surprise was how I was treated. It wasn’t a warm embrace.
The Peace Corps had selected the community I would be staying with and the people there had been told to expect a US volunteer.
“When is the American getting here?” I was asked on arrival.
I am the American, I said. They were shocked. Just like I had images of what a typical African should be, they too had an image of a typical American. And that was not a 22-year-old black woman.
To them, I was a fake American. Some even suggested that I was a spy from an English-speaking African country. This is not an uncommon reaction to volunteers of colour. In addition to black volunteers, Asian, Latino, and Native American volunteers are sometimes greeted by disappointed community members who assumed that they would look different – that they would be white.
I completed my two years of service in Swaziland with the Peace Corps. Despite continual challenges that I faced there due to my race, I stayed – because being there meant that I was continuing to learn more about Swazis, as well as allowing Swazis to learn more about me. Following my time there, I travelled from south to north Africa, mostly overland, to further enhance my knowledge about Africa’s diverse cultures and people.
…I had been travelling around Asia since August 2017. Like many tourists venturing into communities lacking diversity, I’ve been used to being stared at, but the attention I received in India felt different.
The looks didn’t seem like expressions of curiosity. They seemed sinister and unwelcoming. When people (young and old) see someone with black skin they stare, point, laugh, make jokes, clear paths, run as if you are chasing them, and fix their face to display an overall look of disgust. Too many people were rude, incredibly childish and treated me poorly. When not being ostracised, I was fetishised.
One of the most pivotal experiences came when a middle-aged man asked me, innocently, about the sexual prowess of black people.
The whole thing is very interesting. Not necessarily what you’d expect from the title.