1/14/2012 - Whose Turn Is It To Walk The Mzungu?

One of the most difficult parts of being in Tanzania is the notoriety that follows me wherever I go, because I am mzungu — white. I have not seen another white person since I arrived in Babati. Whenever I go out, I here people calling, “mzungu!” It’s a very new, unfamiliar, uncomfortable feeling. Most people are curious, friendly, anxious to connect, share a greeting, try out their English or test my Swahili. Children love to touch my hair and arms.

When I arrived in Tanzania last October I spent four days with Simon’s family in Arusha. He is the founder of Amka and the person I first connected with about Amka. I was pampered beyond belief at his house, but never allowed to leave the compound where he lives. Just stepping outside the front gate brought stares and comments. After three days of being confined, I was going a little stir crazy. I told Rose, Simon’s wife, I was going to take a short walk up the street and back. She asked that I wait until one of her son’s could go with me. A minute later, my phone rang. It was Simon telling me I must not take a walk by myself. At first I was irritated, not liking the feeling of big brother watching me. Then I realized he was right. I could be a target. And although most people have been wonderful to me, someone could decide that mzungu would have money and credit cards worth grabbing.

So began my confinement in the small world of Amka School and the compound where I live. Even there, Amka staff and students watch out for me and protect me. If I tell someone I am going for bottled water, suddenly one of the kids tells me they are going, too, and we can walk together. If I decide to walk home instead of take the school van, a teacher decides that she would love a walk, too, and will come with me. If I buy anything or have dealings with anyone, it is great to always have a translator with me. Teacher Sifuel, it seems, has been given the responsibility of watching over me in Babati. He checks with me daily about anything that could be an issue…my health, my toilet, my water supply, my cell phone and Internet minutes, my food consumption, my doors and windows at night and my general happiness. If I need something, he arranges it. If I want to shop, he goes with me. I guess being mzungu really has its advantages!

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