Photogenic African Children? Is the difference that first world kids are taught to avoid the stranger’s lens? Because strangers are scary?
Six days ago, I was in Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, on the shore of Lake Victoria, bicycling home to my dearest cozy sleeping bag on a dark scary road, the main southward arterial to Uganda. It was about seven. It was quite dark, but close enough to dusk that there were regular clouds of gnats. It was not pleasant.
At once: I am blinded by an oncoming semi-truck. My night vision is shot; there are no street lights. Ahead I barely make the outline of bicycle loaded with raw sugar cane six feet wide. I veer right onto the road proper where a minibus is overtaking the semi-truck. Oh crap. It honks; I veer left, into a pot hole. This hurts. Back right. Through a cloud of gnats, close the eyes. Open eyes. Three shadowy slowly moving bicycles, two seconds to impact. Hmm. Left again. Big unseen bump. Ow.
Repeat times twenty minutes. People point at me, shout. Mzungu! Mzungu! White person! White person! In the dark I really don’t welcome it. Why are you so interested in me? It’s intense but also banal. Being on the bicycle, as so, that is my day to day. Cycle, cycle, awkward encounter, cycle, eat, sleep, repeat.
Bicycling through Africa, excluding the big cities, I can easily imagine myself in a classic Western film. The land is dusty, sun omnipresent, buildings stout, industry absent, law more a suggestion and at every turn there’s the palpable sense of both opportunity and danger. The highway is littered with the hulking remains of automobiles stripped to the frame. Subsistence farmers with goat powered carts trot along as a 2011 BMW whizzes by. The highway is sparse, uninterrupted but for potholes and the few occasional cows.