Before I left Gainesville, I had a 15ft-wide window that spanned the length of my bedroom and, at night, could be seen from half a mile away. There were doubtless countless occasions when neighbors, or joggers, or business students saw me naked or picking my nose. I was probably a public spectacle of sorts. But any notoriety I might have held as 'that guy that needs curtains', was nothing compared to the attention each and every Peace Corps volunteer receives, each and ev.ery time he/she steps out of his/her house (or stands near an open window).
It starts out as a distant cry – an impossibly small "pomuy, pomuy, pomuy". You turn in a full circle and look high and low to try and discover its source. Then gradually it gets louder. Then, like a zombie film, you see a stampede of African children bearing down on you. It is hard to describe the abject terror you feel each time you leave your doorstep. Sometimes, the kids stop five yards off and keep a steady chant as they wave at you from a safe distance; sometimes, they do a full-speed header into your groin and bounce backward onto the ground. The usual mantra is 'Hello, what is your name?' – even if you've already given that particular child your name a dozen times. I said that as if I had ever once managed to identify a child I had previously encountered – I have not – and since the average trainee's family has two dozen children, it's entirely possible that they are all unique. I often wonder what African children do with the white people's names they collect – if perhaps they compare them with those of their friends like Pokemon. But once enough have learned your name, you hear it all over town. From each passing school bus, a volley of cries proclaims just what big news you are.
I have never been much of a dog person, but those who are, inevitably cite the animal's unconditional love as a prime motivator for ownership. Regardless of whether you've been gone for two days or two minutes, your dog will be positively elated each time you walk through your front door. But I am here to tell you that this appreciation is a mere flicker compared to the excitement and adoration expressed by an African child each and every time he/she sees a pomuy. As you pass, they will latch onto your hands and follow you to the ends of the earth - I write this with great difficulty because I presently have six children hanging from my arms and legs. Sometimes the excitement will be too great and rather than run to you, a child will just nervously dance and clap and belt out a pomuy chant until you are out of earshot. Even children who are currently bathing or taking a dump will call out to you – personal dignity is a small price to pay for the privilege of exchanging a greeting with a white person.