Learning Swahili

by martha on July 25, 2011

All smiles before a long journey.

We had a lot of time to talk there in the back seat. Sylvia and Noelene were great travel companions.

What follows is probably my favorite travel tip so far. The amazing Sylvia wrote me this note during our long drive to Karinda. Most of the children had never seen a white person before. Not even on TV. The place is REMOTE.

Muzungu tip

"Do not be surprised when children call you MUZUNGU."

Sylvia knew it was my first trip to Africa and that I’d landed on the continent less than 48 hours prior, so she wisely decided I needed to be prepared. Perhaps she was concerned that I might be offended or maybe just confused.

Armed with the word, I would have merely been amused, but these children never even WHISPERED it.

We’ve been called muzungu a few times now, though only in Kenya. Mostly by older kids. Often in a surprised tone as we drive past.

“Muzungu!” they shout and point as we speed by on the roads.

Face-to-face, though, it’s rare for someone to call us muzungu directly, as if it’s our name, as Sylvia had predicted. It happened in Kenya a couple times, preceding some kind of order, “Muzungu! Give me that ball” or “Muzungu! Take my picture.”

Sylvia told us that she knew a missionary who’d had a t-shirt made. It said, “My name’s not Muzungu.”  In fact, a Google search pulled up this blog post written recently by someone who posted a picture of that t-shirt and wrote a really thoughtful post on the role/image/fallacies of the muzungu in Uganda. I enjoyed it so I wanted to link to it for you here: My name is not mzungu

I’d love for you to also visit the Raincatcher site and read the post about Sylvia. She is an incredible woman. I’m waiting to hear if she had her baby this weekend, just a couple days after we took that long drive.

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