As promised on this blog the other day, I’m listing the 6 things I will and won’t miss about Sri Lanka as my countdown to departure begins. And the first thing I’ll miss is the attention. There’s no point in pretending that I hate it because I don’t! I thought I would, I took time adjusting and now? I’m slightly embarrassed to say, I love it! Sri Lanka is not exactly cosmopolitan and although Colombo, the capital city, will have a diverse mix of people, a little place like Galle has very few white people – so you tend to stand out a bit! Everyone stares at you, lots of people wave, most say hello and some even jump up and down with excitement (I never said it was justified).
At first I found it very disconcerting because I don’t (contrary to popular belief) like being the centre of attention. Who remembers this guy Ewan MacLeod from his days presenting Chartbite? I remember being in a taxi with him at the height of his popularity (he was helping my charity) and I wanted to sit on the floor of the taxi because everyone was staring in and waving! I was willing the traffic lights to move to green and my daydreaming about being famous stopped that day!
Over the years I’ve noticed the change in public attitude to my good friend Nicola. She went from being a high profile political activist to leader of the opposition in the Scottish Parliament and now she’s Deputy First Minister of Scotland and never off the telly. In the good old days we’d get people trying to figure out who she was (they knew they knew her but from where they did not know) – guesses included Posh Spice! Now, everyone knows exactly who she is and it’s like being out with a celebrity. People seem very excited to see her which is a very odd thing for me so goodness knows how it feels to her. Recently I was sitting in a coffee shop with her (very civilised and very in keeping with her new status, but not mine!). Anyhow, a very fit looking guy kept eyeing me up and I was feeling quite pleased with myself and gave him a little smile until I suddenly realised that he wasn’t eyeing me up. He wasn’t eyeing anyone up, he had simply recognised Nicola and couldn’t help but stare.
This is the thing with well known people – folk cannot keep their eyes off them. We seem to be mesmerised by fame, like moths to a flame we are powerless to resist. I’ve seen very confident, self assured, otherwise intelligent people go to pieces in the presence of someone they’ve seen on telly. I’ve watched the same type, desperately try to pretend that the fact that this person is famous is having no effect on them whatsoever. I am deeply ashamed to admit that I’m a bit like that myself. Obviously it’s different if you’ve known someone before their “fame” but despite my attempts to be cool and regardless of my disregard for “celebrity” I was once rendered speechless when I met The Proclaimers! I AM a big fan of their music but so what? I was about 22 when I met them and I just stood, open mouthed trying but failing to manage dignified never mind cool. Eventually I managed to squeak: “I love you … cough, splutter, clear throat, much deeper (almost manly) voice this time …. Your music. It. I love. Not you … squeak returns … bye”! Did I mention the scarlet face? No? Actually it was crimson.
Anyway I digress. This is not supposed to be an indepth examination of our attitude to fame (although if anyone wants to offer me a phd for all that work, and a phd for everyone who’s reading to the end, I’d be happy to accept).
This is supposed to be about what I’m going to miss in Sri Lanka when I leave in less than two weeks time – sob sob.
And despite my finding it a tad uncomfortable being caught up in the attention received by famous people in the past, I love being treated like a celebrity here! I admit it. I don’t particularly enjoy some of the attention from teenage boys – there is no need to be fluent in Sinhala when they thoughtfully provide actions to go with the words – and some of the men are a bit minging. My friends have experienced crudeness more than me – I can honestly say it’s only twice that I have noticed a Sri Lankan man lick his lips in my direction or, worse, touch himself whilst muttering something to me in a deeply unsexy (but trying his best) voice. Anyone who knows me might say that’s because I spend all my time with my head in the clouds but actually, I don’t do that over here (partly because of the open drains). I interact with human beings all the time – so I would definitely notice it.
I’ve been very lucky because the attention I’ve received has been generally very positive and warm. And perhaps that’s why I’ve surprised myself by not wanting to hide away. Perhaps it’s because there’s nothing negative in it. At first I thought I was getting some idea of how black people back home felt in areas where there were few of them. But I wasn't, I really wasn't and I’m sorry the thought crossed my mind. It’s not racism to recognise that someone is a different race to you and here, they celebrate the difference, they welcome it. It’s rare you pass anyone, man or woman, in the street without them at least smiling warmly at you, most saying hello, many stopping and talking – it’s something I think I never have time to do at home but I’m going to make a bigger effort in future because it’s good for the soul.
Children in Sri Lanka, aside from being absolutely beautiful, are very funny. If they can walk, they love me. If they can’t ie if they’re babies, they’re terrified of me. I’ve met one baby who liked me – a beautiful little girl in a Hindu Temple in Kandy who was almost as fascinated with me as I was with her. But every other baby out here (and I do mean EVERY baby) has burst into tears on sight of me and clung anxiously to their parents’ necks, not sure whether to turn away from the scary sight or keep an eye on me just in case … As I said, babies are the exception to the rule and from toddlers upwards, they treat me like I’m a star! Little kids in shops tug at their mothers’ skirts, desperately trying to get their attention before it’s too late and I’ve walked on – they can’t wait to show them the white person. They are so excited to have seen one. When I say hello their mothers get equally excited and urge their kids to take the opportunity to practise their English.
I’m not daft, I know it’s nothing to do with who I am, it’s simply to do with me being different. Just as the attention famous people get is often not about them but about their fame. But regardless of the reason for it, I have to say I’ve really enjoyed being a “celebrity” for a while, it's really very nice when people are pleased to see you but I know it's all coming to an end. I am spending a few days in Singapore on my way home and will use my time trying to come back down to earth lest I should find myself, on my return to Glasgow, sauntering along Sauchiehall Street waving to everyone like I’m the Queen of Sheba! There’s nothing quite like a Glaswegian put down to rain on your parade!