September 4, 2010

Iganga Town, Uganda

I was fuming. My mind working out possible solutions to a work problem. The sun glaring down on me, perspiration filming salty and shiny on my top lip. The ground, uneven and muddy, passed unnoticed beneath my feet. .

“Mzungo goodbye,” somehow penetrated the roar in my head and what annoys me on a good day incensed me further.

I walked faster ignoring the small shrill voices – their excitement unnecessary since it was my usual path – was unacknowledged.

But my mad isn’t that simple. I am not just a person in a bad mood; I am a mzugno in a bad mood. Frowning. Unspeaking. Curt in my interactions. I didn’t smile and “ole otiya” in my  usual fashion. Instead I avoided eye contact and headed for the bank. Of course surliness finds the surly in everything. The line at the bank, long. The air conditioning, broken. my usual manager, busy. my problem , my fault. I left the bank even more agitated.

Outside the sky opened up and spit on me. Great, now the weather matched my mood.

I brooded in the shelter of the bank awning, ignoring the cluster of men staring and discussing the apparent intrigue of my other-ness (I deduced from the frequent glances and constant use of the word “mzungo” in their conversation).

Ultimately I was angriest at myself.  Angry at the heavy mood that had hardened my personal interactions for the day, because, after all, it is just a day. And all that hardness has potential for lingering damage because the thing about being of a very few anything is that you run the risk of representing the everything that you are simply one of. You become the “proof” of some theory about black men, old women, government employees, Ugandan children, and…mzungos.

Iganga has a few mzungos to speak of, but not many. And if my day of brooding is any indication to my neighborhood, muzungos aren’t friendly and possibly think they are better than you.

In Phebe (Liberia) mzungos were often considered unfriendly if they didn’t speak first and often. Never mind that it took weeks for people to return my greetings. I kept at it because I was fighting against the impressions of every other rude foreigner, or shy, or one simply having a bad day.

Walking home, breathing deeply against the psychological chaffing of “mzungo goodbye” rubbing against work and life, a little girl at my final corner smiled shyly and then quietly greeted, “mzungo hello.” Exasperated, I responded not mean but definitely not friendly, “ninze Linnea.” She blinked slowly and replied, “Linnea hello.”

And just like that, I smiled.

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2 Comments on mad mzungo

  1. Linda O'Dell says:

    Thank u my love for that beautiful story about life and yes no matter how ugly it can sometimes be, overall it is beautiful and its usually the so called “little” things.

  2. sza says:

    i’m wishing you days filled with blue. you are amazing and wonderful, and most importantly, thought-ful. i love you and how you make me strive to be better.

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