Sunday, October 9, 2011

young and famous in uganda

Whenever I used to hear a celebrity gripe about all of their unwanted attention, my eyes would glaze over.  Not only do many of the most vocally defiant celebrities make fistfuls of cash while the rest of us toil on to get by, but they then have the audacity to complain about it?!  It’s obnoxious.

It’s occurred to me lately, however, that my position here in Kisoga is a lot like a celebrity back home.  Everywhere I go in town, people know me.  They want something from me.  Where the movie star has to put up with an endless stream of scripts and the rock star gets handed countless demo tapes, I am constantly asked to attend meetings that, if they ever do take place, always start sometime after my “one hour waiting past scheduled start time” threshold.  Where the producer gets bombarded with the obscure references that somehow link her to the unknown work of an aspiring actor, I get, “We should work together!  Do you know Megan?  She is a Dutch muzungu that came here in… was it 2007?  She was my friend.  So what can you do to help me?”  In the same vain as the paparazzi, I have had the back end of a camera phone shoved in my face for an instant before I see someone tearing away, holding on tightly to their new treasure.  This is not an isolated incident either, but happens with a fair amount of regularity.  When there’s a group of us out dancing… okay it’s weird, but it’s at least a little understandable.  Too many times, though, I’ve just been sitting in a taxi, covered with the dirt and sweat of the day’s travels, when I hear that chintzy little fake camera sound and look up to see the grin of my own personal paparazzo.  Like many of today’s celebrities, I didn’t even do anything to deserve my newfound fame.  Can someone tell me why being the stepchild of a 1980s Olympian is grounds to turn an entire family into household names?  I mean, I guess I’ve done some good things here, but most of the attention comes from people who, apart from knowing me as the token white guy, have no clue who I am or what I’m doing in Uganda.

It can be exhausting.  It’s a tough realization that no matter how badly you want to fit in; you are on the outside of your own community.  And how do Peace Corps Volunteers respond to this?  Well, quite a bit like celebrities to be honest.  Some Volunteers cut loose and paint the town red in a great hazy binge, a la Lindsey Lohan.  While I’ve yet to hear of anyone utilizing the classic “Woody Harrelson punchout”, I’ve definitely witnessed firsthand a few Russel Crowe like meltdowns (minus the bar fights).  A few Volunteers, to even my astonishment, never seem to lose their cool.  They have a Tom Hanks-esque saintliness that, while you have to appreciate, you can’t quite comprehend.  One good friend, taking after the infamous Nic Cage, has coped with his stress by buying a bunch of crap that no person in their right mind would need or want.  I do want to say that while almost all of the time almost all of the Volunteers act with the patience and serenity of a saint, we are all still human, and none of us are perfect.

So where do I fit into all of this when I’m having a bad day?  I guess I’d have to liken myself to the enigmatic Johnny Depp.  I keep to myself, staying safely within the confines of my house when I don’t feel ready to face all the staring and shouting that my celebrity brings.  When I have to leave the privacy of my home, I don a pair of sunglasses and my headphones and keep my head down.  It’s not that I ignore people, but on these days, it’s a brief nod and a “jambo” then I’m on my way.  I even seem to watch a lot of Johnny Depp movies on these days, but I’d say that it’s more a consequence of my affinity for Tim Burton than any true allegiance to my celebrity doppelganger.

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