Being white in Sri Lanka has its perks. For example, I can easily slip into any of Colombo’s four-star hotels to lift toilet paper from the bathrooms, read the paper, or indulge in high quality lobby coffee.
Being white in Sri Lanka also has its drawbacks. I am often at the receiving end of assumptions, “you people” comments, and unwanted stares. Sometimes I get all three at once: “those men are staring at you because you white people usually walk around half-naked and they’re looking for a glimpse of your legs.”
Without exception, passing young men will meow, “Hellllloooo, how are youuuuu?” and I’ve seen more than one man trip while gawking at me. A friend of mine from India who frequently has the pleasure of witnessing these displays says that I’m treated like an animal in a zoo.
Part of me understands that this attention goes with the territory. At other times, I want to scream, cover myself from head to toe, and explain that ignorance can go both ways.
[Street sign from Blank Noise, an Indian organization that fights street level sexual harassment. http://blog.blanknoise.org/]
When children stare at me, I react differently; I say Hi, I take their picture, I ask their names. Kids don’t bring the added baggage of colonialism or Hollywood or ingrained expectations to our interactions. For them, I’m just a curiosity.
Yesterday, for instance, I went to an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp to discuss human rights violations with residents. After about 15 minutes, dozens of kids had stealthily slunk past the windows to get a glimpse of the white lady. Two kids in particular thought that I was the funniest thing they’d seen. Ever.
As always, a sense of humor conquers all.
Posted By Kerry McBroom
Posted Sep 9th, 2010