I shave my legs every day, and I’m not even hairy, but no matter where I am, who I’m with, near water or not, ill, hung-over, harried or alone I will not let a day pass without drawing a razor up my shins. And because of this, I might very well be thought of as a god.
Twenty odd years ago I was working on an ethnographic film about the Turkana Tribe of Northern Kenya who were billed as one of the last extant nomadic tribes. After packing up our film gear, the director, an anthropologist and I set off for Africa with plans to follow the true fancy-free. It didn’t take long for that notion to be smashed to smithereens. Nomads, it turns out, don’t just roam hither and yon striking out on a whim, they basically walk in a circle, true a big one, but a circle nonetheless. I also learned on that trip (and have had it confirm on subsequent travels through supposedly remote places) that there is no spot on this earth that hasn’t been trod upon and, worse, should you need to pee, there’s a good chance that one of our fellow nine billion inhabitants will happen by.
One afternoon, during the heat of day when the ground we had set our tents up really was the sun’s anvil, I decided to shave my legs outside. I immediately drew a crowd of Turkana women, who, in the pantheon of tribal women are pretty lucky. Yes, they might be one of several wives but they don’t practice female circumcision, nor do they need a dowry to get married. So they tend to be a cheery lot who love a little good entertainment. I could have sold tickets the minute I started slathering on shaving crème and to say they were fascinated would have been an understatement. Naturally, having such a captivated crowd I added a few flourishes like shaving zigzags through the thick white foam. Once I was finished I extended my legs and let the women feel my silky smoothness. I will never forget the feel of their tentative delicate fingers lightly touching my shins. Just then the anthropologist, who was always snooping around, came up behind me and said something to the effect that I was polluting the Turkana’s notion of beauty, which, from my perspective didn’t seem possible. Any woman who submits to scarification and ridiculous amounts of some oil so her skin is slick, isn’t going to be swayed by my daily rituals.
So I just rolled my eyes and would have said something caustic to my ladies if they had understood a word of English when I noticed that they were staring wide-eyed at our interloper.
Jealous that I was no longer the centre of attention I turned to see that he was vigorously blowing his nose into a handkerchief, which, when he was done, he put back into his pocket. At this point all the women fell about laughing. The anthropologist, a prideful man, stalked off in a huff so I had a chance to ask our translator why everyone was in such fits of laughter.
They can’t believe that that man wants to save his snot, he said shaking his head.
Camp life changed from that moment on. For the rest of our time with the Turkana, I was regarded with due reverence. And the anthropologist? Well, they just thought him a damn fool.