Iganga Town, Uganda

September 24, 2010

I love Zimbabwean noses, think John Amos from good times; Liberian bodies, ebony skin pulled taut and shiny over highlighted muscle. In Uganda it is the lips. Full, soft, dark. They defy comparison, only the reality that they are what lips should be.

I file these things away and weeks or countries or continents later, when I want to conjure a memory, they are like markers. The man, shirtless to the waist and boxers below leaning over to pull a bucket of water from the muddy reservoir, his lats pronounced against the green backdrop of trees and shrubs. Immediately I am on the Ganta highway crammed into the Pehbe hospital bus, Charles Taylor’s house whizzing by on my left, huge bags of coal for sale to my right.

The other day someone asked if South African men are beautiful. And oddly I found it an absurd question. Absurd despite having answered a variation of that question for myself every time I travel.

I stuttered. Stuttered and stopped. “Xhosa women are beautiful.”

I was thinking of shaka’s girlfriend so many years ago – still one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. But she is one. An outlier of beauty no matter where she was from. Zulu, Kpele, English – she was exquisite anywhere. Everywhere

I don’t know why the beauty question struck me as such a strange one. I’ve wondered if Senegalese women are the most beautiful in the world as I’ve been told, if Brazilian men are the most handsome.

But if I really think on it, no one has ever asked me if American mean are beautiful.  Three hundred million people, how do you decide? I’ve seen it all, forgetably average, oddly attractive in some disjointed way, a mother’s-only beautiful. There are as many representations in loveliness, who would be so limited to think there is homogeny in the face of America…hell, even in the definition of beauty?

Parts of West Africa find wrinkled necks and gapped front teeth signs of radiance. Watching western television and stick thin and blonde seems to prevail.

I wonder if the ease of asking about a people’s collective beauty is more telling about those of asking…the idea that a group can be summed up in a definition of its parts. Or it could easily be that the world is simply obsessed with beauty. That we understanding that there is a power in having it, harnessing it.

I still associate a strong sexy manly nose to Zimbabweans, bodies meant to be immortalized in shiny black marble in Liberians, and lips I want to kiss in Ugandans. But beauty, like my addresses, is inconstant and I find it everywhere.

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply