Being the mzungu

So…’ Dan asked me, ‘Have you found me a mzungu girl yet?’

Every Tuesday I go my church homegroup. We eat, laugh and joke. We pray and have bible study. And after homegroup, if no-one has a car or is going in my direction, I call my taxi guy and he drives me the 5minutes back to my house. Walking after dark is not an option. But he’s a friendly guy and the fare is less that £1.50 so I don’t mind too much.

‘Here we go again!’ I thought when he asked me this question, as I remembered previous conversations. Many of our taxi ride conversations have centred around Dan’s desire to marry a ‘mzungu’. Conversations where he’d told me that he wants a mzungu wife so he can show off to his family, to his village, or something like that. And other conversations where when I posed him with the question of whether he’d rather marry a mzungu or the president’s daughter, the president’s daughter actually won over the mzungu.

So when he asked me this question, I wasn’t surprised. I told him my task wasn’t easy. I told him women aren’t really all that flattered by his reasons for wanting to marry them. I then thought a bit. I wondered if he would marry a mzungu at any cost. So I quizzed him. I asked him what he would do if I brought him a mzungu girl, but she was really, really ugly. He said he wouldn’t mind. That it wouldn’t make a difference. I wish I could believe that his response was because of some hidden depth. That he looked beyond appearance. But really I knew he didn’t even get so far as looking at the appearance. He is blinded by the skin colour.

I asked him what he would do if the mzungu was so boring that every time she spoke, he would just fall asleep because she was so boring. Still, he insisted, it would be ok. He’d marry her. What if she was a criminal? Yep, he’d marry her. If she were in really bad debt, and he only found out once they were married. Would he divorce her? That one he’d have to think about…

Finally I got him. If this mzungu was incredibly aggressive towards him – a man-beater – he would turn her down. A rejection! The need to be respected by your wife triumphs over the prestige he would gain from family and friends for marrying a mzungu.

I’ve thought about our conversations quite a bit since. I’ve thought about how sad it is that Dan is so blinded by skin colour and I’ve thought about being angry with Dan’s persistence in idolising the mzungu. But I realise that he just says what so many are thinking and feeling. At least he’s honest.

Everyday I have to deal with being a mzungu in a very different world. I have to deal with people singling me out from the crowd to come and beg for money. I have to deal with kids chanting ‘how are you?’ at me – cute at first, but each time it stingingly reminds you of your difference. I have to deal with men shouting at me in the streets. I have to deal with a perceived sense of jealousy from many Kenyan women. I am realising that however I dress, however much I learn the culture, however fluent I am in Kiswahili, I will always be different. I will always stand out. I will never, truly, fit in.

Being white immediately connotates power, influence and money. Despite living off a fraction of what I would be earning, even on minimum wage, back in the UK, I am expected to have a limitless amount of cash ready to dispense. In a culture where girls my age are normally given little voice or say, I am expected to know all. I’m not angry that my opinion counts, but I am angry that it only counts because of my skin colour.

Am I not more than this? The mzungu: the white girl? Do you not realise that I think and feel and love just the same as you? And do you not realise your worth, your value? That by idolising me, you are belittling yourself, your own abilities? Do you not realise that we are just brothers and sisters, with the very same Father?

I know and understand the reasons why so many think this, but still it makes me angry and it tires me. And sometimes it hurts me.

I long for a day when regardless of who you are and where you are in the world, you won’t be judged by your skin colour. A day where the you will be judged by the depth of your heart not the whiteness of your skin. Do you think that day will ever come?

Until then…I’ll continue doing my small bit, trying to persuade Dan that it’s not really a mzungu wife he needs, but one that he can love and respect, and one who loves and respects him. Regardless of skin colour.

And I readily take any suggestions for how to respond when next Tuesday he will surely ask me again on how far I have got with finding that white wife for him…!!

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4 thoughts on “Being the mzungu

  1. Love you Pippa and really know where you’re coming from. I’ll send you a poem soon about a similar thing. Thanks as always for your honesty and expression.

  2. I think that maybe that day will only come in Heaven. Obviously all God see’s is his people. Christians see people as God see’s them. Its sad, but true. You will just have to teach Dan how God see’s his people and then he will see through that. xxx

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