Curious baby on the bus.

This may have been, hands down, the most cleansing, patience-teaching moment of my whole service… Perhaps an epiphany and shock of, ‘wow I have fucking changed- and for the very very best’. To finally have the wisdom to not respond to anger, bigotry or verbal violence and the strength to just let things be.

I arrive at the Indian embassy to process my visa for my future travels. The embassy is full of older Indian men and some Batswana. I sit in an open chair next to an older English white man.

I’m wearing a sweater which covers most of my tattoos and a long shirt/skirt and leggings (culturally appropriate for India). I observe this man through my sunglasses, dramatically remove his glasses and glare at my visible rose tattoo on my wrist. He scoffs out loud, makes eye contact with me and shakes his head at me, for far longer than a few casual seconds. His intentions were to be rude, abrasive and obvious. His eye contact said he didn’t care, and his actions showed his sad miserable soul.

Often times people stare at my tattoos, some remarks are good, some are bad, but never are they so clearly rude. But imagine: I am a white American, I have red hair, I am not just white, I AM PALE AS FUCK. Typical ginger, literally: I glow in the dark. In addition to my ghost like complexion, I have tattoos which stand out from literally miles away. I get quite a lot of attention from the locals here. Many times local Batswana ask me questions though, and I openly appreciate their curiosity.

Camphill Kids Fieldtrip

Negative questions usually follow suite of:
“Does it hurt to get done?”, 
“Do they itch?”, 
“Do they cause diseases (Cancer/TB/HIV/AIDS) ?”,
“Can they be removed?”,
“Why would you do this?”,
“What does your mother/father think?” 
“How will anyone marry you with these?”
(Sometimes similar questions people in america would ask.)
Some people just talk about me in-front of me, or dramatically act scared for laughs.

Positive questions/remarks entail:
“Where did you get those!?”
“You must give me one!” (assuming I am a tattoo artist)
“Please give me one!”
“What do they mean?”
“Will you get more?”
“Where else do you have tattoos?”
“They’re so beautiful, but I am too scared.”
“Wow mma, I love your tattoos”.

Let it be known, that even in the smallest of villages here, everyone knows what tattoos are and the word is still ‘tattoo’. As I travel around Botswana and other African countries since living in Southern-Africa, I can hear children and adults whispering “tattoooo, tattoo, tattooo!” in every direction. But never have I ever experienced this blatant verbal violence from any single person I have encountered in the last two years despite my obvious cultural differences. Curiosity is a beautiful thing, and I welcome it graciously, because I too am extremely curious.

I remove my sunglasses and then head phones to make proper eye contact with this grown adult man who is still shaking his head at me. I proceed to ask politely, in my go-to Computer-Screen-Saver-American-White-Girl-Tone, “Sorry sir, is there something I can help you with?” I thought, perhaps, if we opened up the dialogue we could talk about our cultural differences and leave this situation on a good note. I’m often too hopeful….

This older man, late 60’s I’d guess, responds with, 
“Yes actually, the very moment that you’re removed from my sight would be extremely helpful (stares at my wrist with visible tattoo). That is disgusting and you are repulsive, what have you done to yourself? Blasphemy. I can’t even look at you. You’ve literally ruined my day.” 
His phone rings and he exists the office.

My Botswana Grandma

I could feel tears wanting to explode out of my face and I thought no, how dare I give this man the satisfaction. Once he exited, all the people in the room began bashfully smiling at me and nodding as if to say, “I’m sorry, you’re not repulsive”… And I smiled back at them, my heart was racing. But their kindness and obvious embarrassment of this man made me realize, who is he? Owner of what? Owner of who? He is just a passing test in my life, I need not respond in any way, he is just a silly old man.

How did I respond though, you ask? I said nothing. I smiled. Once he sat back down, I removed my sweater so he could see the full extent of all he was missing.

A younger me would have reacted immediately, fueled by emotion. But no, all I could do was laugh to myself and shake my head- you do not matter to me sir.

How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.” ― Paulo Coelho