Stand Out

Still on the subject of who we are and Korea (random events have been bringing back memories of that beautiful far away grey jagged land), do you think you could be from Pakistan, Indonesia and the Caribbean all at once? I had no idea I could. Between a taxi driver who was overly fascinated with his passenger and a man I met later at a bus station, I actually thought I was being punked.

But it was the most interesting 10 minutes in a taxi. Before we figured out where I was actually from, I first had to figure out what the middle-aged taxi driver was saying since he was talking rapidly in Korean, going on and on about something. When it finally dawned on him that I could not speak Hangul, my over eager taxi driver began to ask in broken English whether I was from Pakistan. I first thought he was trying to say something else, because you’ve got to be kidding me, how could I think I could be Pakistani? I could not stretch my imagination that far. My Pakistani friend would have a fit if he heard this! Anyway, we established, after a while, that I was a Ghanaian from the continent of Africa. It was a whole Geography lesson. Yay me.

I admit, in this situation, it was more amusing than frustrating that my identity was severely mixed up. Because let’s face it, I was halfway around the world from home.  So I got stares. Everywhere I went. I eventually got used to them. On the street, on the subway, in the bus, in the store, everywhere, the people stared. They looked away when I stared back, some in shyness, some as if surprised I also had the audacity to stare back.

Sometimes I think I must have been a startling sight. Think of a very old woman, pushing a cart full of vegetables, and suddenly, she stops right in the middle of the pavement so she can stare into the dark face of a stranger way taller than her. Or two giggling girls, whispering past you, trying hard not to look. Or a wrinkled old man looking angry and muttering incomprehensible words, maybe not sure what to make of his country because black people can freely strut about.

Ah, there was a certain old woman on the subway who was beside herself that I was an athlete. That was the one time I went out with my equally dark-skinned friend. So you can imagine that we drew all sorts of stares. One black person is interesting enough. But two black people in Daegu is asking too much. That was the day we were going to see the closing ceremony of the IAAF games. There was no use trying to convince the old woman that I was a normal black girl with no Olympic ambitions.  Anyway it dawned on me that it would be next to impossible to get away with mischief in this part of the world being as obvious as I was. I hear it is better in Seoul.

It is comfortable to get used to living and being like everyone else, to not be the center of attention where you are the odd one out who gets stared at all the time. (On the flip side, I got used to being in the minority at Kalamazoo, so much so that when I first went to Chicago, it was odd seeing so many black people around. And then a black guy had to call me “sister”. I stared at him blankly. I have to admit, it took a while to get used to it.) But it got me thinking, isn’t this what we are meant to be in the command that says “… come out from them and be separate?” Hard words for both sides, but the truth. If you don’t stand out, then you are light that has been hidden under a bowl. And in these dumsor days (power outages), that’s being very selfish indeed.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.” Matthew 5:14

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