One autumn morning, I was standing at a bus stop when a couple with brown complexion like mine approached. I greeted, and I got back a weak nod from the gentleman. I searched the lady’s eyes to make contact but nothing came of it. The bus came before I could make an attempt at small talk, and we all hopped in and went our separate ways.
There is nothing unusual with this kind of communication, which basically means I’ve accepted it as the norm. I used to be so excited, when I encountered another African. Because we are a minority here, in Finland. However, more often than not my excitement was met with a quick glance or complete avoidance.
This behaviour confused me at first, and I wondered “Why do we Africans behave differently, when we are in white spaces?” Because back home, when we greet “Sawubona” we actually mean I see you. I see you as a fellow human being and we journey this life together; we coexist.
When I started working with fellow immigrants and hearing their stories, I started to understand this avoidance of eye. It was a mix of pain, loss, displacement and the sheer act of trying to survive in a new place with its own set of values and traditions. By looking each other in the eye, we risk an outburst of emotions.
So, I pose a different question to you, dear reader. What’s in your eye, when you encounter another fellow human; fear, mistrust, kindness, acknowledgment, etc? And does it require a change of perspective?
note: This short essay is a response to Telling Tales with Magaly Guerrero. The question, “Why do we Africans behave differently, when we are in white spaces?” has inspired a number of my poems. In any case, I know I’m not the only one pondering this behaviour. The first paragraph of this essay (though it explores a different subject) vividly captures what I’m talking about here.