I don’t need a reminder I’m a Muzungu…

I’m white, very white, despite red dust, pollution and a lot of sun each day. I know I stand out and I know I am a foreigner (Muzungu) I just didn’t think I would get Muzungu fatigue after only two weeks but already it is affecting my nerves and mood.

Despite wearing the local get-up I still think I don't quite look Ugandan...

Despite wearing the local get-up I still think I don’t look Ugandan…

There is nothing I can do about being called Muzungu (foreigner). I know it is just a thing people do, it is the one bit of fun in their day and it is habit to call out Muzungu when they see a white or foreign person.

The thing is it’s not just kids, but young men (mainly), women, old people, the slightly insane, the poor, the rich, anyone basically as it does not discriminate who calls out the chorus of Muzuuungu!

I know I bring it upon myself as I like to walk a lot and each day as I walk the 10km round trip to work and back I get countless calls of Muzungu – no matter how often I pass or how familiar I think or hope I am becoming.

I just wish it would stop… it is not going to and the only control I have is how I react to it and I find it largely depends on my mood. If I’m happy all good a hello back and a smile, if I am tried, hot and it is the 509th time for the day I can snap – but it doesn’t do any good and I am better off putting my effort into making sure every child is vaccinated than to stop people calling out Muzungu to foreigners!

The other pet peeve but again nothing I can do about it, is the almost always young men blatantly asking me for money. I know I am richer than the vast majority in Uganda just in my presence here where I can choose to be here – even as a locally paid volunteer. Still there is nothing that will make me feel comfortable to be seen as money and not as a human.

Having said all this it is nice to be on the other side of the coin and a minority and learning through the basically racist taunts of Muzungu, white man, John, Peter, James or some other typical white name. Learning to have a thick skin and resilience in situations you don’t have control over can only improve character and empathy to those who have to endure hardships far more trying than being called Muzungu.

Footnote – this won’t stop me losing the plot every so often and abusing the 137th person to call me Muzungu tomorrow! And trust me this in not the only place in the world where it happens if anyone is familiar with the calls of: gaijin, weigook, gringo, gora, americanski, ferenji, etc…

About Living Geo d'Arcy

Experiences are the richest thing in life. Love them and live them.
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13 Responses to I don’t need a reminder I’m a Muzungu…

  1. Sabine says:

    It will be interesting to learn from you how you are going to deal with the “Muzungu” thing in the end. It so reminds me of our year in Malaysia, where the locals didn’t stop “hello”-ing us whenever we had just cycled past. We cycled back and forth from our village-home to uni and back so after three months or so I expected this to stop but it didn’t and it was always yelled at us behind our backs. We couldn’t deal with it so – I wish you tonnes of good nerves.

    And to add to your list of names: in the Philippines they call foreigners “Hey, Joe!” male and female alike…

    • lunny06 says:

      I’m not surprised to have this comment from you and Holger.

      The one thing I did forget to mention is that it would be 10x more difficult if I was a woman…!

  2. armanmichael says:

    Love the honesty. I REALLY struggle with the “hey joe” or “americano” label over here. When I’m tired, I just have to take a deep breathe and will up all the strength I can must to prevent myself replying with a sarcastic comment.

  3. Holger Woyt says:

    “Mzungu originally has the definition someone who is ever moving around wanting to see everything.” If you keep that in mind it might get easier to bear…..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mzungu

  4. Kate says:

    After two years and practically everyone in the country knowing who I am and my name, I still get ‘Hey palangi” -to which I shout back ‘Hey Tongan’…stating the obvious really.

    • lunny06 says:

      When I lived in my little town on Bonga in Ethiopia I walked every day down the same road, twice! Early on I stopped, cheerfully shared my name or the easier to remember version and still ‘ferenji ferenji’ never seemed to get old for them… Still there was one little boy who remembered and would get most of my attention – he worked out the system!

  5. skaheru says:

    🙂 Hey, Muzungu, permission to use a bit of your photograph in the Kanzu up there? I can’t explain why people keep shouting Muzungu at you, but perhaps they are just being polite instead of ignoring you (which would take an effort if you are in any rural part of the world). As for the fellows asking for money, counselling and education are seriously needed for them – but tell them to do some work in exchange for your money.
    Now, back to that photo and permission to make use of it, Lunny (see, I used your name there)…?

    • lunny06 says:

      Hey Skaheru, thanks for the comment. I wish it was them being polite but I know it is not. As for giving them money for work or not it still perpetuates the white man being rich and the black man being poor or in service so I would not do that either. In the end it is up to me to deal with this thing being a guest in their country.

      As for the photo I would like to know it’s proposed use but always willing to share if used appropriately.

      Thanks, d’Arcy.

      • skaheru says:

        🙂 I’d take a bit too long to explain what I mean by polite. As for paying for work done – fear not, I do it all the time regardless of the skin colour of whoever I’m paying; just don’t dole out money for nothing. The photo is for an infographic I am making – and I only need the bit from the nose to the kanzu front bust. I could email it so you have a look and give me an all-clear.

  6. lunny06 says:

    Sounds all good to use the pic – thank you for asking! Keen to see what you are doing with it so please send me a copy if you like darcy (at) globalpovertyproject.com

    Thanks, d’Arcy.

  7. jake says:

    Hilarious, white people problems. The easy answer is don’t go to non-white places in the world, I guess you just assume they want you there. 😀

    • lunny06 says:

      No I don’t assume that but flattered they can call me out every time I walk down the same street 🙂 So flattered I’m not sure I need the flattery anymore… There is another way of looking at this when the ‘white-world’ would stare and point out someone with a different skin colour or clothing which seems to be getting better, slowly…

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