Adventures of a Reluctant Circus Freak: Travelling Africa White and Bearded

From afar, celebrity life seems glamorous. I used to think it was all sunbathing on yachts, smoking cigars lit with burning cash and slipping a nip every now and again to keep the punters interested.

How naïve I was.

Having just now digested an NBA game I see some demographic similarities between American basketball and the continent of Africa. If by chance a white person takes to the court my immediate reaction is either a) someone please tackle this fully clothed streaker or b) here’s another one of those Make-A-Wish Foundation things for some terminally ill kid. I can only imagine the Africans I’ve met while I’ve stumbled up the east coast of their continent are thinking the same.

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Lost my bloody keys again

But on top of the flashing neon sign that is my china doll complexion, I’ve gone and taken the liberty of growing a large red beard. While it might raise a few todgers in Australia, being both white-skinned and red-bearded no longer raises any eyebrows. Africans, on the other hand, aren’t beardy types. It seems that at least some have the capability, but the right remains unexercised. For one reason or another it just isn’t the done thing. They mustn’t be paying $20 for a 3 pack of Schick Quattro replacement heads over here.

So what with my crème skin and a face covered in Scottish underpants shrubbery, for the first time in my life I find myself as quite the ethnic minority. A celebrity of sorts, albeit a reluctant one. I’m the child star who didn’t have a choice in the matter. I’m Macaulay fuckin’ Culkin.

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And like modern day Culkin, people now scream and cry whenever they’re within 5 metres of me

But my celebrity life isn’t one of lighting up Cubans with $100 bills while pissing off the side of pleasure boat. If anything it’s been more Elephant Man than Leo DiCaprio. Reactions have been many and varied, and are summarised neatly for your reading pleasure below.

The Look

The first few days in Africa I found myself checking my reflection for a texta dick on my forehead even more than usual. Passers-by are shameless around here, going the gawk as if I was conducting a bit of pole work, but without the pleasure of tucking notes in the knickers. Reactions usually go one of four ways:

The double take. It’s like a bloody Benny Hill skit. At first a glance, then a slow-dawning realisation of what they’re seeing, then a full-on stare. Impeccable comic timing.

The mouth gape. A kiddie special.

A subconscious reach for the chin. People seem to get an itchy jaw when they look at me. Pretty sure it’s a compliment.

Appreciation. Generally from dudes in their 20s. They stroke their chins, point at me and smile. May or may not be followed with a high-five or a subtle pat on the arse. Actually this only tends to happen when I’m in gay clubs totally by accident.

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Trying To Braid My Beard In A Market And Then Giving Up: A Story In 3 Parts

The Catcalls

Women in activewear, I feel your pain. Getting hollered at by mystery men on the street isn’t my cup o’ joe either. In a fun game of ‘quick, think of someone with a beard’, the names hollered have been many and varied, covering almost every race, creed and colour of humanity.

There have been the sports stars, primarily Messi and Giroud. There have been the religious figures, including Jesus, Haile Selassie and ‘you look like some old catholic archbishop or something’. There have been examples of they all look the same – the kids incessantly shouting ‘CHINA!’ perhaps being the finest. Finally, there have been the slightly less flattering; I’ve lost count of the amount of times someone’s pointed and shouted ‘Osama!

Environmental Portrait in Beijing, China: Hutong Man by Nat Coalson
I am but ONE of these people. Good fucking luck picking who apparently.

Touchy Feely

Perhaps the toughest part of this newfound celebrity is that it’s often accompanied by a complete loss of personal space. Rather than quietly wondering to themselves what a bushy red beard must feel like, many people, particularly in Ethiopia, take it upon themselves to do some hands-on scientific research. Do I care to be involved with this experimentation? Who fuckin’ cares.

Some are pleasant enough, the back of the hand gently caressing the chop region. Others are a little more gung-ho, attacking with a clawed paw and just diving right in there. Generally these assaults are from kids, but a couple of oldies who have obviously reached the ‘I don’t give a duck’s fart any more’ stage have also got a little grabby. I’ve found that my ‘mate are you being fucking serious??’ face doesn’t translate that well internationally.

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An example of exquisite beard handling technique: a request for permission, a cautious eagerness, and a soft, open hand

Laying in the bed I’ve made

There’s nothing worse than a celebrity who gets all woe is me. So I won’t. While there are moments when I’d rather not have a swarm of kids trying to Tarzan swing off my face pubes, the pros of standing out in Africa generally outweigh the cons. It opens doors both literal and metaphorical, it often serves to bridge the language gap, and for whatever reason it gets people smiling.

So in true minor celebrity fashion, post-Africa I’m looking forward to feeling like a complete has-been, spiralling into a depression and perhaps going comatose from an ill-advised amount of prescription meds.

Whatever Macaulay can do…

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