Aisha Rapant
English 101
31 October 2016
Standing Out
It was only a few years ago in 2011, which I clearly remember how I felt my whole summer vacation. My mother and I took our fourth trip to Africa for about two months to visit our family. The people of Niger, West Africa have such different lifestyles, values, and representations on the world than many others are used to. It was so tough to wake up every day and accept that what they might seem different, is very common for myself. Lucy Grealy, in her essay Mirrorings , describes her journey of self-acceptance through the opinions and influences of society after being diagnosed with Cancer. Both the uncontrollable sickness of Grealy and the color of my skin had effects on our own self-esteem, thus being trapped in our surroundings opinions. Being on a completely different continent wasn't enough to commence the feeling of being judged. In a country warned with terrorism and violence, any tourist who passes by, not looking like one of their own, was given unwanted attention. However, my initial feeling was of confidence. Grealy states that she "was the only one walking about in the world" whom actually cared about and focused on what was "important", unlike the appearance of her deformed face (26). The whole point of my trip was to see my many uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandmother; that was my priority, not what I looked like. It was on the first night that we arrived which riled up the whole town. The talk of the town of light-skinned foreigners coming spread like a wildfire.
By the crack of dawn, dozens of visitors had already came and went. Even little kids from the houses next to us and strangers were gathered right outside the old-fashioned hut, peering in at my mother and I. Half of them never even said hello. That made me extremely uncomfortable. The only reason I could think of them gawking at us like that was because of the color of my skin. Why would that even matter? However, I wasn't thinking like that. In her literature, Grealy writes, "On one level, I understood that the image of my face was merely that, an image, a surface that was not directly related to any true, deep definition of the self. But I also knew that it is only through appearances that we experience and make decisions about the everyday world" (29). My difference in race was enough to have them think I'm so much different. Most have never even seen, nor met another individual outside of their ethnicity, so I'm sure they had their reason to act so strange, as they thought I was. For a few days, I was terrified to leave our little room. I was afraid of the things the visitors would say. Indeed, I was right. A week or so in, I was starting to make trips into the weekly Good-Friday market. The day of the week in which thousands of consumers crowd the streets to buy spices, clothing, furniture, and newly imported meats from the capital. Going about the day, noticed passer-byers mumbling phrases under their breath as they walked on. Some of them, I recognized. They were racial slurs, derogatory comments, and just plain rude words. Similar to Grealy, she "received…nasty comments about [her] face" which "hurt and disoriented" her self-esteem (23). Something as simple as hailing a motorcycle taxi was surprisingly difficult, even though the town was jam-packed with them. The men would just lie and say they were off duty or pass us by, just to be seen picking up someone else down the street. It seemed the town was so uninviting.
On one specific day, I remember being so frightened to venture out into the main part of town. I wanted to cover my body more than ever before. Being a predominantly Muslim region, I decided to try and fit in by purchasing a traditional hijab to wear. The combination of the headpiece and traditional clothing certainly put the harassment and let-downs to a minimum. Nothing seemed out of place from a quick glance of us foreigners. Serving as a temporary hiding place,