As I stepped out of the gated area that held rows of small ordinary homes, I couldn’t help but think I was stepping into a different world. The road was now just a rusty-colored powder and as I looked up I knew this was the Africa I expected to see all along. Small huts were scattered on either side of the single road that ran through the town. My mom, dad and I began walking down the road to the “grocery store” which was relatively the size of a gas station.
We were in Lecheng, Botswana, a small town centered around a boarding school. My family and I were staying inside the gated area that was the living compound for the staff. As we left the compound and began our journey down the road I heard giggling and words I could not understand. I turned my head and two girls in green school uniforms were pointing and laughing in my family’s direction.
I, being only fourteen at the time, was very shy and easily hurt. I turned my head very quickly straight ahead and felt the panic and embarrassment rush over me. I knew they were looking at my white skin and listening for my strange accent that seemed so out of place in this remote village. I quickened my pace and whispered to my mom what I had noticed. She laughed and calmly said, “I know, it’s okay.” I could here the children mimicking my mom’s words between giggles and I felt very sorry for my family. As we progressed down the road the laughter got louder. I took another swift glance behind me and an additional three or four children, all in uniforms, joined the original two girls. Now I was five steps ahead of my parents who were still keeping their slow pace. The group continued to expand and I felt completely horrified, but we were only moments from our destination.I told myself the children would leave; they wouldn’t follow us in the store, which was much too small to fit our audience. I rushed inside, bringing a wave of relief.
I looked outside the windows and to my dismay there stood the group of children, patiently waiting. I managed a small nervous grin even as my stomach sank. On the return journey the children eventually dispersed when we entered the gated-in neighborhood that was much more similar to my own in Loveland and I felt much better.
My whole life I’ve grown up in a society where I fit in with my community. We speak the same language, we wear the same clothes and we live in the same type of houses. I had never been put out into a world where I was the minority and I was different. My panic and embarrassment came from the shock of being completely strange to these children when in fact I felt quite normal and ordinary.
I came back to the United States with a new understanding of the people my culture may consider different. I now could see the panic and embarrassment in their faces when my own society stared or laughed at a person struggling to find the right word in English or at the student whose clothes are not the conventional jeans and t-shirt we all wear. In Botswana I was able to experience the actual meaning behind the word minority. Now whenever I see someone who is “different” I think twice before staring and instead remember my experience and how it made me feel.
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