The Licking Conundrum


When I moved to a village in Africa I expected to receive quite a bit of attention. I am pasty white by American standards so Africans are particularly enthralled by my complexion- this I find very normal. People frequently want to play with my blonde hair and sometimes ask to buy it from me (usually for a ridiculously low price) and even this I find normal. People stroke my arms and legs like I am in a petting zoo, and although this is less cute when adults are the ones petting me, it has also become normal. What will never feel normal is when people lick me. Should I ever express that this has become a normal part of my routine I hope that you will feel concerned about the status of my mental health.

The most recent licking occurred this weekend. Two of my students from last year, Grace and Fortunée, came to visit me. They brought along some random girl named Espérance who had crazy eyes from the moment that I met her. We all sat together chatting and looking through pictures but Espérance’s eyes never left me. So awkward. She kept trying to hold my hand and then once she had it she would turn my arm over and examine my skin. She declared over and over again that I had the most beautiful skin in the world and demanded to know what lotion I use. This type of behavior continued for a majority of the visit, and even when I managed to rescue one arm she would somehow wrangle the other one into her violating grasp. At one particularly horrifying instance she pulled my arm up to her face and proceeded to lick the entire length of my exposed forearm. It was terribly disgusting and I don’t know quite how to articulate just how much I hate being licked- especially by adults. Twice I have been licked by children. This is also gross but they are children so I am a little more lenient. When it is an adult touching me with their tongue my immediate reaction is to slap them. Of course I don’t, I have a feeling that Peace Corps would frown upon me using slapping as a method of conflict resolution, but boy is it tempting. I mean in what culture do you just lick someone???

So Espérance licks me and then a few minutes later playfully slaps me across the face (I say playfully to indicate it wasn’t an act of aggression, it does not mean I found it to be a playful gesture- I did not care for it one bit) and then tells me, “Suzanna, ndagukunda.” Well guess what Espérance? I don’t love you back! As a general rule of thumb I like friends who keep their tongues to themselves and don’t stroke my arm for 20-minutes straight. I was genuinely concerned that she might return at night to kill me so she could wear my skin as a coat. That is how creepy she was.

Now don’t take this story as a statement that every person in Rwanda licks me, but I feel like being licked five times in 20 months is five times too many. I guess there is some quality to my skin that just invites licking. Who knows? It is all rather bizarre.

I don’t really have any photos to go with this post since it is a random and kind of icky topic, but here is a cute one from the orphanage last week. Claude is taking a break from volleyball and looking very pensive indeed. 🙂



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