06 Oct Good morning Mzungu
The word “Mzungu” comes from the Kiswahili language and is used by local people in east, central and southern Africa to designate someone with white skin since the first (f*cking) colonizers, generally accompanied by smiles, laughs and shouts. It is indeed rarely possible to walk more than 100 meters without hearing this famous nickname gushing from the huts, stalls and other shacks along the glowing paths of Africa. Whether it is politeness toward visitors, a way to be noticed, or an ongoing entertaining inside joke, Ugandans never miss an opportunity to greet the Mzungus.
After six months in Africa, the least we can say is that we don’t go unnoticed. Every time we go out, the looks are flying in our direction, most of time with plenty of kindness. Time goes on but the gazes persist, as if we were the first Mzungu to visit this part of the world, which is definitely not the case. It seems that we will never be able to blend into the surroundings. That gives us a small idea of what fame does to heroes, except that we haven’t done anything special to deserve such attention.
When the mood is great, that is to say most of the time (how could it be any different when the weather is hot all year long?), we play the game with pleasure, finding it even pleasant to jump out of the anonymity that we experience in our home lands. We are continuously greeted, answer smiles with smiles, blinks with blinks, shake hands with the kids who often run toward us in a swarm, if they don’t start crying at the sight of such pale skin. We even bargain with joy, as of course this pale skin being associated with a wallet full of cash, prices have a bad tendency to drastically rise up for us.
When we are tired, though, it becomes harder to handle. We would just like to go shopping without feel the heavy weight of staring. To be polite, we briefly answer the numerous solicitations, most of the time friendly, and then fix a point in the horizon, hoping to cross as few eyes as possible. Sometimes we even get a bit angry, before feeling guilty of such feelings. After all, no one is forcing us to be here, so we should just have fun instead of being frustrated. Especially because smiling at a “Good morning, Mzungu” will always make people happy and feed their daily need for exoticism.
Such an experience is interesting in many views. Being in the shoes of the minority, the one we always look at one second too much, to whom we unconsciously and without malicious intent convey that here isn’t home, that this minority is “different” or “abnormal”, is instructive. Of course we are largely privileged and benefit from favours often unfair for the locals. We can usually skip the line when people are queuing and our bags are never searched when leaving a shop, as if the Mzungu couldn’t be a bad person. A little history lesson would probably be a good thing in order to reconsider that myth… Anyway, being watched because being different give us a sense of what marginalized people can feel back home, and it isn’t pleasant.
It is also for us the opportunity to take our distance from the attitude of others toward us, to which we give way too much attention in our home countries. Whatever we do here, Ugandans, who stop joking only to pray, and still, will find one way or another to laugh. Therefore, we take this opportunity to be who we are, driven by our eccentricities whenever they come, instead of holding them as usual in order to look normal (whatever that means). The joy of life brimming from Ugandans is contagious and, despite the mosquitoes, we feel particularly lucky to have this great opportunity to live among them. Looking forward for what’s next!