Rough Start

Winter break is here and at the moment I am feeling all kinds of emotions. I had a really rough start setting out. Normally I’m very comfortable in my community and traveling around the country when necessary, but for some reason today wasn’t my day. In general I don’t have a lot of anonymity as a Black woman living in a majority Albanian country, but it mostly doesn’t bother me. Today, however, I just happened to get event after event compounded one on top of each other. On the bus from my city there was a teenaged boy two rows ahead of me that would periodically look over his headrest at me for the entire hour and a half bus ride. There was even a five minute period where he incessantly called out trying to get my attention, though I was pointedly ignoring him. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but isnt it rude for anyway kid to call out to an adult like that, especially a stranger they don’t know? So then why is it that I don’t deserve the same respect, just because I look different from the people around me?

Furthering my annoyance was the girl sitting across the aisle from me. During one of the few times that I ventured to look away from the window, I just happened to look over and sit a picture on her phone of me staring out the window. I honestly thought I was seeing things. To get a better look I very¬†conspicuously looked over the aisle at her phone to verify what I was seeing. Of course once she saw me looking she changed the photo and closed her phone, but when our eyes met I gave her the biggest, “Are you kidding me look!?” to let her know she’d been caught. I wanted to tell her right away to delete the picture, but I also didn’t want to incur the interest of the annoying staring kid any further. I resolved to confront her when we got off the bus, but she and her friend were gone by the time I finally got off.

Understandably, I was past annoyed by then. After getting off, I decided to call my friend, a fellow WOC, to tell her of my experience, and while I was walking and talking I passed by a man up there in age, who without shame blurred, “How black!!” in Albanian as I passed by. Well no duh! This whole time I was under the false impression that I was orange. Thanks for pointing out the obvious kind strange. After that ordeal I made it onto my last bus, my friend was on the line and the first thing I hear was a “Oh nice!!” in English, in references to me. I don’t know why people feel the need to pull out their limited English skills around me, or to use them in situations like that one like its somehow the one thing that all foreign girls want to hear. As if stateside catcalling isn’t bad enough.

I don’t know why it had to be today of all days. Things like this aren’t necessarily uncommon for me here, but I live in a village, which allows me to be insulated within my community. Outside of my community I’ll receive the occasional stares or requests for photos, which I understand. I stand out. I’m different and there is absolutely nothing wrong with curiosity. What is wrong is staring at people constantly and calling out to them like you’re trying to call an animal. What’s wrong is taking secret pictures of people without their permission, without giving them the opporunity to agree or disagree to the picture that’s being taking. Today, I wanted to come on here and gush about how excited I am to be visting Greece and Switzerland soon. I wanted to talk about my last month in school and my plans for writing more posts in the coming months. I wanted to write about all those things, but instead I felt compelled to shelve those topics in lieu of talking about the immediate thing that affected me today. As I’ve probably written multiple times over, I love being a volunteer and I love being able to have these experiences in Kosovo. That doesn’t mean, however, that my life is without difficulties. I wanted to be as candid as possible when retelling these events, because I don’t think I’ve ever really written about the experiences that I’ve had as far as my race is concerned. It’s not a big issue for me that comes up on a daily basis, but it’s also not a non-issue either. Being a Black female volunteer does affect my service. It affects the way people see me and how they relate to me, especially strangers on the street who don’t know me, and think that spitting out a line of the latest rap song is going to impress me (Disclaimer: it won’t). This was my experience today and I though it ts necessary to share to promote understanding. The next few blogs I promise will ¬†be filled with fluffy details of my next two weeks of travel, which I can’t wait to write.