Castries, St Lucia
Over the decades, living as a member of a minority religion, especially in Christian Germany has given me only a small perspective on what it feels to know that you are different from those around you. But I am hidden in that population, not visible by appearance, style, dress, or action sum less I chose to draw attention to myself. Add to that more than 30 years of military service where your performance, rank and attitude are far more important than facial structure, hair color or skin tone. Religion can be divisive; programs for understanding exist (but not always adhered) and stupidity and prejudice can be disciplined.
But living as visible at all times? Where others will make judgements faster than the country club ladies catalog a potential members designer clothing?
There are three ships in port today. Us – Legend of the Seas; Reagents – Seven Seas Voyager and Croisier de Francais – Horizon.
I walked to the center to town early, before the hordes finished breakfast and stormed off the ship for tours, travels and trinkets. For well over and hour of walking around, the only other white faces belonged to a couple of men conversing in German while standing in a shop doorway. The occasional Indian name headed a list of medial or legal professionals.
This is a capital location with government buildings, neat well dressed people bustling to work, dropping off young children and school, opening shops, stores and eating establishments. Caucasian genes are not in abundance. Tall, lean with the look of hard work and limited intake of fast food. The herds of children school bound are all neat in their uniforms with shiny shoes and meticulously styled hair. The boys are cropped short, the girls with short, plaits or neatly controlled pigtails and hair ribbons. The men all wear long pants. All but the rare woman is dressed in blouse&skirt, dress or the occasional long pants. No one is fat. The closest I saw to plump were a couple of the older women in the complex of tiny souvenir stands.
It has been decades since I read “Black like me” Even a couple of hours of walking around brought back my feelings of discomfort that initially rose in 1979 on our first trip to Jamaica. I have noted it again whenever I am somewhere, like China, that I can not disappear/blend into the crowd. Each time I walk into such a situation I am reminded that being visibly different is a “normal” way of life for millions. Skin color, physical structure, disabilities are partly immutable, completely subject to perception.
I am not invisible as I walk, but garner more than one smile as I step aside to let another person with arms full of child or toddler pass. I don’t have a deadline, but they do. Haven’t they experienced politeness from tourists? As I finally head back to the ship, I start passing passengers walking toward town. I don’t know how the well dressed, wealthy and entitled are going to feel about the potholes, broken sidewalks and mobility challenges. Or are they even going to notice in their well pressed shirts and shorts bearing expensive labels?
The overweight, t-shirt and short set from my ship is potentially worse. They are bargain hunting and loud. As I sit in the terminal wearing a simple dress and keens, I have to wonder what those in town path ought as I walked. No camera in hand, just a middle aged white woman with a backpack walking the town, dodging cars and thinking about what it is like when you visibly don’t fit in.