Monday, February 06, 2006

The Muzungu Files

While the following statement is downright obvious, I would like to point out that the Congo jungle is mighty hot. That’s why, when we do distributions of household items to families, we create nice shady spots in villages. That is, assuming your trucks with said items make it to said shady spots. If they break down 500 meters down the road, all bests are off. So instead of roping off a nice little field area and doing this thing the right way, we just made everyone walk downs to the trucks and did it on the road (more aptly described as a jungle path). I’d like to say that this was “the fun way,” but alas, it was just a bit of a headache.

I did, however, get to practice some Swahili. Having gotten tired of the guys waiting on the sidelines trying to get my attention by hissing at me (this actually isn’t necessary impolite, though hard to get used to) and saying, “muzungu. muzungu. MUZUNGU!” (muzungu = white person) I decided that it was finally time to abandon my French and pull out the big guns. My colleague helped me translate something, and I read it a few times to get the pronunciation write. Then I took our megaphone, walked up to the guys and said. “Mwengine mutu mwenye ata ni ita muzungu hata pata tena kit.” This means “the next person that calls me muzungu is not getting a kit.” I added with a smile, “Assanti sana.” (Thank you).


Blogger mom said...

Sarah, you are well-spoken and certainly not-to-be-name-called in any language. Good for you.

3:11 AM  
Blogger 007 in Africa said...

That is so funny. I'm sure there were gasps of horrors and little snickers heard throughout the Jungle. You go girl!

9:16 AM  
Anonymous George said...

omg. that, my dear, is truly feckin hilarious... and something that I may have to leverage when I get back to Rwandaa in a few weeks.

7:04 AM  
Blogger lulu on the bridge said...

I tried calling them "black" in return, but it didn't work. The thing is that for them calling you "white" is not offensive, just descriptive. But sometimes I wish I had a megaphone...

10:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Sarah,

I have been a great fan of your blog and i have read everything. Just love your sense of humour and adventure. I found your blog while googling about DRC because i was preselected for a MONUC job. And to my great delight yesterday, i have been offered a job in Kinshasa. I plan to arrive around March 15. Please let me know if you need any books or other (light things) that you might need. I live in Athens, Greece with my wife who is an american diplomat serving here. Anyway here is my email address:

Take care
Tasos Kioses

2:58 PM  
Blogger Sahara Sarah said...

Lulu, I know! It's like if everywhere foreigner wore red shirts they'd be like. "Red shirt. Red shirt! YOU IN THE RED SHIRT!" And then if you turn around, they are just like, "hi." A few of my friends have shirts with "muzungu" on it, but I just don't know if the irony translates well. Though the whole experience has made me want to carry around a megaphone more, or memorize in perfect swahili, "i know exactly what you are saying so you'd better be nice." (perhaps you should try that one out, george).

Tasos - congrats on the bold move. i guess my blog hasnt discouraged you too much! will be in touch

3:35 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

Ohhhh, excellent. Once I was driving along a road and a bunch of kids were staring at me (not because I was white, which I am not, because I look more Afghan than anything) and one girl opens her mouth wide, points (I hate the pointing more than anything) and shrieks,

"OOOOOO Amriko-eeeee!" ("Ooooh, you're American!")


Then again, I do feel bad as these people have no TV and I don't want to make them sad about their only entertainment for the month.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Louis said...

Someday, when you're back in the states, you will miss the call of Mzungu...

It is so annoying, though: our joke was to call back Mweusi-- black person, like lulu said. I don't know whether it worked or not; it got a few laughs...

It's also strange that anyone who is not Mweusi, Marabi, or Mhindi is Mzungu (i.e., all asians). So imagine your annoyance if you got called white all the time and you weren't even white.

5:28 PM  
Blogger TheMalau said...

Hahaha!!!! It is kind of funny (no offense intended) to actually hear Bazungu complaining about name calling... especially with me living in the States, and the name calling I get daily... it is just hilarious!! See when I say Muzungu, or Mundele, it generally is not derrogatory at all!

But then, when I lived in Mali, with my Mum being a UN Rep, and the little kids called me Toubab, the West African equivalent (And I as black as they come), it surely caught me by surprise...

And yes calling us "Black" in Congo, no effect at all... because we are Black, it is just a statement of facts. The Muzungu T-shirt though... I just love te humor.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Taylor Walters said...

Ahh, yes, it took me awhile to accept that my name was "muzungu." Whenever I hear "muzungu, muzungu, muzungu" (why so often in threes?) I want to say something clever three times in return. If you ever think of something, please let me know!


2:04 AM  
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