During orientation, Angie casually mentioned that one of the Kiswahili words that we might hear on the streets is “muzungu” which means “white person.” In Nairobi and traveling with a big group of other “muzungus” I think I only heard it once or twice. But here in Kakamega, muzungu could quite well be my name. It should be, I hear it more than I hear my name!
I have to admit, I kind of liked it at first. It was fun to walk down the streets and have everyone look at me and talk to me, I felt like a celebrity. It was really funny sometimes too…
But now that I am working and living in Kakamega, I am beginning to like it less and less. Yesterday when I was walking with my boss, Felix, everyone kept telling him “unashindi muzungu” “You’ve won a white girl.” He translated a few comments for me such as “look at her body” and “lucky, he gets to go to America” (marrying an American= easy green card). It kind of made it hard to concentrate, I felt scrutinized.
English and Swahili are both the national languages of Kenya, meaning that the school children learn both from an early age. Unforuntuatley the school system in Kakamega isn’t nearly as good as the system in Nairobi, meaning that the only English most of the kids I met on the street knew was “how are you?”
I started just replying in Kiswahili which seemed to make them laugh even harder, but made me feel like at least I got to practice my language skills too.
Even so, by the time I got to work I was pretty fed up with whole “muzungu” business. I was so annoyed that I mentioned it to Alfred. He said
“You know, I think that if I went to some places in America, I would get called some things too.”
Gulp. Right. Point taken.
There are worse things one can be called than muzungu…I will carry my muzungu name with pride!