Call me friend – not mzungu
It was a lovely Friday for your mzungu here spent in a lovely family in a small community in Munyonyo, Uganda. Very different from what my Fridays usually are like or in general from what my days when I travel are like. Usually it’s more sightseeing, visiting attractions, getting lost on purpose. However, this one was an exception. A lovely one!
I had only exchanged Facebook messages with Jackie when I asked questions about moving to South Sudan in a Facebook group of women who travel. Then we kept talking and I kept asking her more questions. Last month, when I was on a stopover in Entebbe on my way back to Yambio, Jackie offered me to go and visit her family and community. To be honest, I didn’t want to go because I knew it would trouble them and they would prepare lunch and go above and beyond to provide a great welcome for the mzungu. But Jackie is so sweet that at the end I gave up and agreed to go.
She came to pick me up with her brother (not a blood brother but they became brothers as they share the same love for children and work for their well being). It was only few minutes before she reached when I started worry. I was talking with a close friend who asked me what if something goes wrong (like I get abducted, kidnapped, or all the other things that went through my mind from that moment until I got convinced that she’s just a great soul happy to meet fellow women travelers) and I kinda started panicking inside. I had no network on my phone so couldn’t even send an SOS message and no internet connection either.
However, I couldn’t back-up at that point and turn them back after they had traveled more than an hour to reach Entebbe.
For some time, I felt weird, worried, and stressed out. It was the first time that I agreed to do something like that and, being the person I am – trusting other people until they prove me wrong – I never thought someone seeming so lovely and friendly would turn into a people’s smuggler or human trafficker. Plus, I’m not used to having strangers fix my hair or get to close physically and Jackie was doing it occasionally so I really felt worried and weird for some time. Anyways, soon enough I was breathing deeply and slowly and trying to calm down myself.
We reached the destination after an hour or so and went inside Jackie’s brother house. His mum spoke some English and we were conversing a little bit. They offered me water as it is the tradition that you shouldn’t leave the house without having had something – food or drinks. I was hesitant as I didn’t know if it’s bottled water or tap water. I asked about it blushing and they ensured me it’s bottled water so I had it.
We took (a lot of) pictures with the family members there and then proceeded to Jackie’s house. On the way, I heard children call me “mzungu” which I had no idea what it meant. Jackie told me it means foreigner (I checked it later on and saw that it refers to white Europeans). I kept hearing “mzungu” more often until we reached Jackie’s house and even after that. Suddenly, from Lavdi I became mzungu. No one bothered to ask for my name for a very long time (almost until they drove me back and dropped me off at my hotel).
We had a rich lunch at Jackie’s place and, no doubt, many pictures were taken during that time as well. I remember only taking two pictures with my phone. Jackie later on sent me the pictures taken during my time there and let me tell you there are 100+ pictures. At some point I felt like being in the Big Brother; however, I understand them and I enjoyed my time and their hospitality.
Jackie and her family members wanted to show me a resort and so we took first boda-boda to the main road and than took a van, or as they call it motorcar, to the resort. To our bad luck, the resort was closed for visitors as they were expecting the President of Uganda to arrive. However, the guards told me I could go in. I felt bad and angry; Jackie and her family are Ugandan and they weren’t allowed to go in but I, a foreigner – a mzungu – would be allowed to go in although they had no idea who I am (I could be anyone and even a threat to they President). This is where I experienced for the first time the white privilege and let me be honest with you, I disliked it TOO MUCH!
Anyways, we returned back while taking more pictures and enjoying the time left and then we took another motorcar to drop me in Entebbe. All the way, there was laughter and joy and my Friday turned up to be a good Friday and a great time spent with new people in their own house. I am happy they accepted me wholeheartedly in their environment and showed me their wonderful hospitality.
Have you had any experience like this?Share it in the comments section. Let’s spread the good news (bad news are already out there)!
I really enjoyed your story. Ugandans are incredibly welcoming and hospitable people so I’m not surprised at your new friends taking 100 photos with you! They will be talking about your visit for a long time.
The word Muzungu is not a bad thing. We look different, we act different, etc. Ugandans are likely to tell you are thin / fat / brown / black etc. They’re just saying it like it is, it is not a judgement. However, it’s not nice to be called Muzungu when they know your name; then you feel like an object. I would say this reflects the fact that the people you met have not spent much time with bazungu.
You did take a chance going to the home of strangers (especially since you didn’t have any phone network). However, generally we trust our instincts when we travel and everything works out okay 🙂
We are more aware now of white privilege and I feel very uncomfortable when I am waived through security. We should all be treated the same (however inconveniencing it is for us to be searched at these interminable security checks). However, security will often say “this one is okay” when they see me. They don’t know that “I am okay” and if I challenge them to search me, they don’t get it. Deferring to white people is ingrained in the culture for many people.
I’m glad you enjoyed Uganda!
Thank you. I agree with all you say in your comment. I find myself in it. I still have to visit so much in Uganda but since it’s like “next door” I keep pushing it for the next time.
Hopefully, once this situation settles down I can explore your home now.
[…] as a non-African in Africa can be interesting. Being called “mzungu” in the streets, how sometimes people talk to you ignoring any Africans who are with […]
Happy to note I am going to stay in entebb tommorow please let me know
Happy to see you’re safe and enjoying Africa! (lol did I just sound like a mum or is it just in my head) I really enjoyed reading this, hopefully you’ll keep making friends and having cool experiences like this 🙂
Thanks, Elina. Definitely not like a mum – just had a video call with my parents and they’re worried about the “what could have happened” part and asked me to not be this adventurous anymore.
However, yes – I enjoy making friends and I’m definitely looking forward to more African experiences during this year (and hopefully more than that)
Sounds like a day well spent!! Also you probably meant “white privilege” and not “supremacy” haha, it’s quite different!
Yes, indeed it was. Hahah yes, I definitely meant white privilege 🙂 I’ll update it now 😀