Saturday, January 24, 2009

Hey Muzungu

I have never felt so conspicuous as I do walking through the Kitunzi Market, the center of the local neighbourhood. Here, being a white person is like being a rock star, or maybe like being the first person you know to have an iPhone. Lugandans are the an incredibly happy, cheerful, friendly people and are thrilled and curious to see a white person amongst them.

They continuously run up to you with excitement in their eyes and address you. Everywhere you go, everyone stops to look at you and shouts "Hey Muzungu"!!!! "Muzungu" is the soundtrack of daily life as a white person here. No matter what your parents named you at birth, your name while you are in Uganda is Muzungu. It just means 'white person', but in the most admiring and respectful of ways. It's the bizarre inverse of the n-word; a word of respect and admiration that Africans call the privileged white people who show enough interest to mix amongst them. This conversation happens every few minutes;

"Hey Muzungu, how are you?"

"I am well, how are you?"

"Fine fine, I am well! Thank you Muzungu"

"Will you have a good day?"

"I will, thank you. And you as well, Muzungu"

I do not exaggerate. People continuously walk up and talk with you, call to you as they pass by, even approach to shake your hand. I have been fist bumping and high-fiving continuously since I arrived. People even whistle to you from afar, from on top of a building or a tower, and wave and yell at you. When you wave back they shout in appreciation. All they seem to want is recognition and respect.

It begs the question: why are the Lugandans, who have suffered the predations of British Colonialism, two genocidal dictators (most of you know about Idi Amin who killed about 2/3 of a million people, he was displaced by Mbote who killed about 300k), and then finally the crazy atrocities of The Lords Resistance Army, not to mention the constant undermining of their efforts by a corrupt government, why are they such a happy, good natured people? Surely they have as much right as anyone to be angry and resentful to the world. But no, they are the sweetest, friendliest people I have ever met.

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