Remember how I studied psychology for four years at one of the best universities in the country? Yea, I had forgotten about that, too. There is a lot I don’t remember from all of those long lectures (I never could function properly before 10am), but some of it has stayed with me, mainly concepts in social psychology. So here’s a little lesson for those of you who have never studied psychology, and a refresher for those who have.
The Spotlight Effect:
Psychology’s Definition: Thinking that everyone is going to notice something about you; is paying attention
My definition: When you feel as though everyone is watching, but they’re really not. Examples in the U.S. include feeling watched when you’re crying in your car (watch Dane Cook’s “I Did My Best”), dancing in public, or just walking down the street. You wake up in the morning with a huge pimple on your chin. You can’t leave your house because EVERYONE WILL SEE YOU. And they will laugh. Really hard. On the inside.
So how does the spotlight effect translate to my situation? A white (well, I look all-white) American girl living in Africa? The reality is that it does not really translate. I actually am being watched and closely scrutinized. Everywhere I go, I am greeted by people I know, and often by people I do not know. Just today, four young children called out to me “Auntie Jaclyn! Auntie Jaclyn!” I knew the name of one of them, but not the names of the other three. Still, I smiled and greeted them as friends.
Living in a village of less than 4,000 people, though not including those who come into town every day for business, and a village without light, my fellow villagers become bored and have nothing to do but gossip or talk about the weather (news flash, it rains every day). I can finally appreciate the term “village gossip” because it has now become almost synonymous with “white man gossip”. I walk down the street or sit at a public event and am conscious that I have many eyes on me. Market day is probably the worst day of the week. Children (and adults) from neighboring villages stare and point, and sometimes yell out to me: “White man! Nassara!” Yes, I’m aware I have pale skin; I don’t need reminding.
So how do I deal? Well, one of the first things I did when I arrived in Misaje is hang curtains. I bought some plain blue fabric in Nkambe and within the week, had it tailored in Misaje and hung the curtains myself. I didn’t do a great job, but I did well enough to give myself some privacy. I have alone time in my house, which is fine, until I leave my house and am immediately swarmed with people asking if I was in the house. Um, obviously. “The whole time?” Yes…why do you even care??
Still, when I am not inside my house, I have to be careful what I wear, what I do and say, where I go, and who I associate with. I went to visit Ben in Nkambe for the Labour Day celebrations May 1st and when I returned, my friend said that he had seen me in Nkambe with my husband. “Not my husband.” “I thought he was your husband.” “He’s not my husband; he’s my brother.” “Oh. Well, I thought he was your husband.” “Not my husband.”
I own one pair of jeans in this country. I rarely wear them. When I do decide to put them on and sweat all day, everyone notices. “Auntie, ya dress is nice.” “WOW!” Um, I dress like this every day in the U.S. It’s just too hot here most days.
To be honest, it will take adjusting when I’m back in the U.S. and people don’t constantly stop me on the street. I might actually be early to meetings…