Thoughts from Rwanda: Less of a Mzungu

Mzungu: African Great Lakes region term used for person of European decent. Literally translated as, “someone who roams around aimlessly.” Typically thought to be rich.

I am a mzungu.

The term was the first of few Kinyarwanda words I learned.

“Mzungu! Mzungu!” Kids waved vigorously with gaping white eyes as we drove through villages in our shining taxis. “Hello! Hello! Good morning! Good morning!” The children shouted. They clapped. They smiled. They chased our taxis as far as they could run down the red dirt road.

I was only in Rwanda for approximately two and a half week, but by the end of the trip, I felt like I had taken a step from the classic mzungu to being more like a Rwandan.

I used less water.

We could not use the tap water in Rwanda, but we were supplied with a glass bottle of drinking water and an aluminum cup we could use. The first morning, I filled my cup to the rim with water to brush my teeth with, and I had to return for more water to finish the job. The last day, I brushed my teeth with only a half-cup of water. I was proud of my improvement over the course of my stay.

Bugs didn’t bother me.

I squealed and jumped the first few times I saw an Africa-sized cockroach creeping along the ground. I then caught two in our shower, and one accompanied me while I was in the shower. They didn’t bother me after that, and I almost found them kind of cute.

Rwandan traffic didn’t scare me.

The first day I rode a moto, I tried to tighten my untightenable helmet and grabbed on to the seat with all my strength. Rwandan traffic includes four lanes of traffic on two-lane roads and motos that ride around cars, oncoming traffic, and people on the sidewalk. By the end of the trip, I was at peace riding on the back with a fresh, hot cup of coffee.

When my moto driver understood where I wanted to go.

I did not realize how difficult it was for natives to understand our English when we spoke with our American accents. “St. Joseph Catholic Church” was difficult for many motos to understand. Later, I learned it’s more understood to say, “SainJoe-seffCathlicChurch.” Just like that.

When I knew how much not to pay.

Rwandan’s think all mzungus are rich. Perhaps to them, we are, but we are also college students who budgeted a specific amount of money to spend on food, transportation and souvenirs. We learned to barter and get bargain prices, and we learned 1,000 Rwandan franks is usually too much for a moto ride.

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