I made it almost a week in Rwanda without being called “muzungu” (or, “umuzungu,” Kinyarwanda for white person). And then it happened. Amongst other unfamiliar words being shouted, I heard one I recognized, “muzungu!” It came with a pointing finger, a wave and a smile. And then it happened again…and again. Though I can’t help but smile as small children jump and wave with excitement at the muzungu passing by, my amusement with their fascination of me wore off rather quickly, and I have since heard this name a countless number of times.
When I lived in Argentina, it was a sort of game for me, trying to blend in with the locals. Aside from the blue eyes, I shared hair and skin color similar to many Argentines living in the city, and my Spanish wasn’t terrible, so as long as I was willing to submit to their sometimes dreadful fashion trends, trying to blend in was possible, though not necessarily probable.
Well, it’s a different story here. I can say around 25 words in Kinyarwanda…half of which I still don’t know the meaning of, and I don’t share any physical characteristics with these Central African natives. Language and appearances aside, the culture and history of the people here is one I cannot even pretend to understand. Even if I could speak their language, my skin color alone makes it impossible for me to blend in. As I walk home in the dark night, my skin glows in comparison to the passing shadows that may go unnoticed if it weren’t for the sound of their voices or footsteps on the rocky dirt road. As much as I would love to blend in and go about my business unnoticed, it does not matter how I dress, speak, or act…as long as I’m here I am a muzungu.
After writing this post, I went for a run (with my running buddy). Throughout our run we were joined by multiple groups of children who would run alongside us for a short period of time. Sometimes in silence and sometimes with remarks that I’m glad I couldn’t understand. At one point, a large group of young children ran alongside us so giddy with smiles and laughter that they could barely keep up. How could I not smile at that?