searching for exotic

‘We saw a bit of your interview with Killa Soldier. We’d like to do him in our programme too. Does he have an interesting personal history?’
‘I don’t know. I didn’t talk to him much about his personal history. We talked politics.’
‘Yes, but he sounds like a success story. We’d like to do something on him for our programme.’
‘I don’t know if he’s a success story. He sings. He’s a rapper.’
‘But his personal life. Does he have a troubled history that he could discuss for our programme?’
‘I don’t know, I didn’t ask him about that.’
‘Well perhaps you could find someone for us who does. Someone whose life has been a success since the end of the war.’
‘Like?’
‘Well, perhaps you’ve got a child soldier who had to kill people who’s now got a job and is happy?’
‘Mmmm… No, can’t say I can pluck one of them out of a hat. Any other ideas?’
‘Someone who’s struggled hard and is now running a successful business. Could you get us someone like that?’
‘Possibly. But you might be better off – and it might be more accurate – if we just pick an average person. Someone whose life just plods along and which hasn’t changed that much since the end of the war.’
‘Err -‘
‘For example, I interviewed a young man who begs during the day and sells cigarettes at night. He fled the war and lives in the Luanda slum areas. He’s very articulate. Despite all his difficulties he doesn’t resent the rich here, and doesn’t expect hand-outs from the government. He’s also brave enough to talk about the criminals in his neighbourhood, who, he says, are mainly the offspring of the country’s political and military leaders. But he has an optimistic outlook. He is happy with his wheelchair and only longs for a house. What about him?’
‘Well we were hoping for someone with a more dramatic history who has really managed to make a go of their life.’
‘But if you want to represent this place more accurately, why not a woman who works in the informal economy – ask her how life has changed in the past five years. She might say ‘not much’ but that would be her view.’
‘No. We really wanted a story. Why don’t I leave you to think about it overnight. See if you can come up with someone interesting.’
Pause.
‘I’ll email you in the morning to see how you’re getting along. We’d really like to do something you know.’

The following day, a friend here in Luanda called me:
‘You know you are so exotic, Lara.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘The way you speak Portuguese. It’s so exotic. You don’t use Portuguese phrases, you speak your own English but in the Portuguese language.’
‘I’m delighted. I’ve never been called exotic before. Do you really think I’m exotic?’
‘The way you speak, yes. It’s funny.’
‘Some people here find it irritating. They say it shows I haven’t immersed myself in the language properly. But changing my language will change my personality and I don’t think I can do that. This is the way I speak, be it in Portuguese, French or English. It is a weakness perhaps.’

The next day:
Stuck on exotic. It’s pejorative to many, but something about being labelled exotic appeals. Is this what white privilege is all about? Is this what centuries of power has done to us? Google ‘exotic’ and ‘race’ and you tend to find only criticisms, for obvious reasons. Trying to deconstruct exotic to rid myself of the selfish enjoyment. I am, at last, unusual.

 

 

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