the most famous black kid peru has never met

We’ve been having a great trip so far but I’ve just got to talk about one element of travel that I absolutely did not expect: the totally bonkers reaction that the local are having to our family, and specifically to Kembe’s hair.

We’ve had our share of nosy adoption questions in the US but usually they are scattered and random – maybe one a month or so. Here, it’s like people cannot NOT ask. Every single person we come in contact with asks if the boys are really our kids. Waitresses, airline attendants, train ticket attendants, people on the street  . . . every new person has to confirm that they are, indeed, our sons. They don’t ask about adoption. In fact, they usually just look at us with skepticism and nervous laughter. It’s annoying but a bit less so since I don’t think the boys understand Spanish enough to know their family status is being questioned at every turn.

But the hair thing. OH MY WORD the hair thing. It’s like Lady Gaga just walked through town in a meat suit, with the staring and the giggling and the pointing and touching and picture-taking. I cannot tell you how many grown men . . . even elderly men . . . have walked up and literally pet his head. Women, too. If we were in the states I would have politely asked them to stop, but given the language and cultural differences, I’ve been absolutely stumped with how to respond.

Then there is the issue of the photo-taking.
kembe hair 1
Everywhere we go, people are taking photos of Kembe. Some people ask to have their photo taken with him, and others just capture a stealthy shot, but it seriously seems like at every turn, someone is begging him to pose for a picture.  He practically got mobbed as we were entering the ruins the other day, and at another point I had to drag him away from an enthusiastic school group of teenagers who were taking turns getting their picture with the kid with the hair.kembe hair 2

What is up with this? Have they never seen black people before? I’m assuming it’s something to do with the afro since Jafta isn’t getting as many requests. Again, totally stumped with how to deal with it. I’m not sure it’s coming from the best place, as there is a lot of giggling involved. I don’t want him being used as a prop for a photo some teenager will show to their friends later. At the same time, people are really forward and making it stop requires me to be rather confrontational, which then makes it A Dramatic Thing when currently Kembe seems to be relishing the attention.

Thus far, I tried explaining that people here, for the most part, have the same skin and hair tones and are curious about difference. I pointed out that there aren’t many blondes here, either, and that people just want a picture since they’ve not seen it much. I referenced the fact that people wanted photos with Karis, too . . . though that only happened with one group. With Kembe, it is seriously constant.  Like we are dealing with the paparazzi over here.

kembe hair 3

I keep checking in with Kembe and he seems to vacillate between enjoying the attention and feeling annoyed. (With requests from pretty girls being much less problematic, of course). I told him he could say no, but people are very persistent  In an effort to give him some control, I finally told him that he should make it a joke and ask for money to have his photo taken. He thought that idea was hilarious, so we taught him how to say, “Give me five soles” in Spanish. And he did. To every new request. It was HILARIOUS.
Funny thing is, people ponied up!

kembe hair 4

At Machu Picchu he had a whole school giving donations to the Kembe photo fund. At the end of the day, when we asked each kid their favorite part of Machu Picchu, he quickly answered that his favorite was getting money for taking a picture. Indeed.

I’m still conflicted about the whole thing, and the potential racist/ “othering” undertones of these requests. What would you do? Do you think it’s harmless or should I put the kibosh on it, with the risk of making it seem like an even bigger deal?

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