Friday, March 5, 2010

I'm Here, I'm White, Get Used to It

A lot of people ask me if I stick out here. Not that I think it’s a stupid question, but it has an easy answer: YES. The other day I walked all the way to work with a woman walking next to me, facing me whispering muzungu the entire way. Muzungu means white person or foreigner, but it can mean all types of people: American, European, Asian, etc. it’s a very broad term. If you’ve been around Eastern Africa, then you’ve been called a muzungu. Since it means foreigner, it doesn’t matter what you look like – if you’re not from around here, you’re a muzungu.

But yes, it gets incredibly tiring. For some reason last week was terrible. As you know I always allow my friends to diagnose me, and Rachel, my fellow volunteer, explained that I am experiencing delayed culture shock. It never bothered me before when children would yell to me, come up to me, shake my hand, I could deal with always having to haggle and knowing I was getting a higher price because I was white and I could even cope with hearing people say muzungu then something in Kinyarwanda, so I knew they were having a little conversation about me, though I was standing a foot away. Recently this happened at my local place (in the comfort of my neighborhood, where I can practice my Kinyarwanda openly) and I whipped around so fast to stare and shame them with a look that says what the f did you just say about me, yes I know that word, and I’m just going to keep looking at you. Harumph.

I think the Uganda trip gave me some relief, and I’m back to my tolerant self. In the end, it’s a pretty minor price to pay to get to be here. I sometimes have to take a step back and realize I’m haggling over twenty cents, even though it’s the principle! Rwandans are very friendly, and many people have helped my Kinyarwanda improve. I will never not stick out here, but I do get to be in an incredibly country with so much culture and interesting people.


  1. Hey Nora! It's Chelsea (Nick P's sister), my mom was telling me about your blog and I think it's amazing what you are doing! Keep up with writing I'm really enjoying reading about your adventures!

  2. Nora, nicely put. When I was in Tanzania, I experienced the same mzungu feeling... I ended up making a bit of a joke of it. When the kids would run up and point and yell "Mzungu! Mzungu!" I would yell back "Sitwi Mzungu, Ninaitwa Alyssa!" Meaning "My name is not Mzungu, my name is Alyssa." The younger ones would roll on the ground laughing, and the older ones would say something along the lines of "Oh, Snap!"

    It's true, no matter where you are, you're a foreigner; however, the sense of community roots is humbling and there will certainly be times when you are welcomed as family, I'm sure.

    Your blog is awesome! I'm so jeal :) Can't wait to hear more!-- Alyssa K. (kickball)