Ever wandered what it is like to be famous? (I have dreamed of being a famous singer, but then I woke up)! Want the spotlight for your 15 minutes of fame? (What are you a teen still?). You know, the paparazzi and their cameras in your face, the incessant crazy people hanging off you and trying to grab that elusive hair to put in their locket? (Creepy, I know). If this sounds like you, just visit a small village at least 200km from any major city in the developing world and you will get a mere harmless taste of fame.
Ever been mobbed by a group of children just happy to see you and stare at your whiteness? To try and steal a touch when you are not looking, the sudden feeling of cool skin poking at your wrist followed by a squeal. The screams of delight and fright as you turn quickly to make a monster face (that was a smile thank you very much) and wave your arms. Arghhhh!! A handshake goes around the whole group and you are never without a hoard of followers (anyone hear flute music?). For those who love to be the centre of attention it is the perfect solution and for those who have always asked the question, ‘what is it like to be an animal in a petting zoo?’, you’ve found your answer.
I would be lying if I said I didn’t like the attention. Who doesn’t like being made to feel important or like royalty? (Well, money yes, paparazzi no). So our visit to a local Ethiopian village to ogle (yes we were returning the attention and fascination in equal measure) at the different ways of life went like this:
Walk along the local path up and over dales; children holding hands with us along the way carrying 20kg of water on their back and barely reaching our elbows; say hello and shake hands with all the elders we pass (many times together with a barrage of local language directed at us with blank or questioning looks in return – what do you reckon they said?); arrive at the village and collect onlookers as we pass each new house; stop to look at something or be explained something by our guide and every spare inch of room filled up with faces staring up at me; take the camera out to photograph the houses or scenery and invariably a child would not be concentrating and suddenly find themselves in the picture with a hundred more peering over my shoulder to see what I was taking the picture of, giggling and laughing at their friend who was immortalised in the scene.
The whole village turned out to see the faranji (yes, that is me, the foreigner) give one of their traditional crafts (weaving) a go to much hysterical laughter.
Leaving the village was met with even more noise than entering. With many of the children particularly attached to the exciting and entertaining new arrivals, desperate to see you stay just a little longer (c’mon on, stay!). They will follow you until they are told to turn back to their village (anyone say pied piper?). Even then they will sneak up and try to follow (dammed paparazzi!).
As exhilarating as it might be to be the centre of attention, now I can see how the saying ’15 minutes of fame’ came about. Because take it from me, you don’t want any more than 15 minutes, it is so exhausting!
PS. No matter where you are in Africa, it is easy to fall in love with the people in small villages like this one. They are always so friendly, happy to see someone different and yes, who doesn’t like attention?