I love who I am and how I look, and evidently, other people do, too. I say this since, as a black female who travels, I get A LOT of attention in certain places I visit. Maybe it is because they have never seen a black face in person. Or it is because of my dread-locked hair. Perhaps they are fascinated by the richness of chocolate skin. Sometimes it is all of the above. This typically happens to me in racially homogenous places, poor places, or in very rural places where the tendency is to be born, live, and die in the same region.
Now, I know that you are bound to get attention if you are different in general and that this phenomenon is not only relegated to travellers whose skin is of a darker hue. My red-headed and blonde friends get almost as much attention as I do when travelling in Asia, for instance.
But I am black, and I can only vouch for my experiences as a black woman who travels to faraway lands. And from what I have lived and experienced, my black skin and afro-textured hair have made me an instant celebrity in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America, where people have touched me or taken my photo (with or without asking). The incidents are varied, plentiful, and often hilarious: in Thailand, people ran behind me whilst chanting "Obama, Obama"; in Poland, groups of Polish and Slovak tourists waited in line for the eventual chance to have me grace their photo; in China I have been asked to hold babies and pose alongside the elderly for good luck, cries of "piao liang" (Mandarin for "beautiful") piercing my ears.
Perhaps the funniest implications of my blackness have occurred in Mexico. In Mexico City, I was once pulled into a nude protest I was observing since everyone wanted to dance with "la negra". I got into the mix and shook my groove thang as flashes blinded me from all sides. In Monterrey, the northern Mexican city I lived in for a year, a guy on the road driving was so busy trying to take my picture with his phone that he inadvertantly rear-ended the car in front of him.
I guess I can now say that my looks have stopped traffic.
But my question is, should I be mad? My general rule is the following: if you ask me to take my photo I have no issue. I find it uncanny that my dark skin and crinkly hair would incite such hoopla. I also take no offense to having my picture taken when I feel those asking me lack the education about, or exposure to, black people and are thus enamoured by seeing one "in the flesh".
So what are your views? Does this occurrence arouse your anger or do you find it amusing? Travelling often means that you have to develop a thick skin. But being treated like circus freak can also be unsettling. For those of you who travel to places where your black skin makes you "different", what say you on the matter?
Follow Oneika Raymond on Twitter: www.twitter.com/OneikaTraveller