Hey Mzungu! What does Mzungu mean, anyway? Is it racist?
There have practically been volumes written on this. Every travel guide seems to have a different answer. Technically, it does mean White Person. And there is no denying that I am, in fact, a very white person. I live in Ballard, for goodness sake. And I like Weird Al Yankovic. So I don’t take it as racist. I tend to think of it more as meaning “Foreigner,” and this is borne out by the fact that apparently African-Americans are also called Mzungu. In some areas, the term has morphed into meaning “wealthy or privileged.” If you stop, and chat with the kids who call to you, and tell them your name, they will use it next time, and you will be Mzungu no more.
Hey Mzungu! What’s the weather like in Kasana Town?
Well, its just about perfect. All my leftover Filipino sweat fears have, if you will pardon the pun, evaporated. Its rains at night, is cloudy and cool in the morning, and heats up to about 80 with sun sun sun during the day. (The cloudy and cool mornings make the cold shower system a bit challenging, but I am tough, and have only screamed three times.) Occasionally it gets bit warmer, but really, its insanely lovely. In fact,on Planet Jane, the weather is just like this, all the time. I can totally see why mankind decided to start our worldly reign from the East African Rift Valley millions of years ago. What I don’t understand is why we left.
Hey Mzungu! What’s that noise?
If its early morning its either the afore mentioned Muslim call to prayer, or Announcement Guy. Actually Announcement Guy blesses us with his words all day and evening at regular intervals. There is no newspaper here, so all news is given over a loudspeaker that you can hear throughout the whole town. The first time Anna heard it, she thought it was somebody saying “Hide your women and children!” He has a very particular inflection, and to those of us who cannot speak Lugandan, he could either be calling a very close horse race, or auctioning off a wife or two. One of the greatest things about Shanti is that its far enough outside of town that you cannot hear Announcement Guy.
Hey Mzungu! What is the educational system like in Uganda?
Pretty crappy actually. It is expensive, about $30 per three month term, so for families with multiple children the expenses can definitely add up. Creativity is definitely NOT encouraged. Everything is done by rote memorization, and you can hear the children reciting their lessons from our house. There seem to be a lot of schools in Kasana, though, so I suppose that is better than there not being a lot of schools. Corporal punishment is normal, and girls often drop out early. The system is modelled on the English system, as this is a former colony, with O levels and A levels, but few children make it that far in their education. A lot of Peace Corps volunteers end up teaching as their placement, so maybe they can turn the tide a little bit. We met one volunteer, from the Japanese equivalent of Peace Corps. She is a special education teacher, and is teaching a class of 60 deaf students. They range in age from 6-16, and they are learning American sign language. She also teaches their parents, but if the children board here, and their parents live in the villages, they still cannot really communicate. Like everything else in Uganda, its complicated.
Hey Mzungu! What’s the music like there?
Oh, the love of Dolly Parton and Celine Dion is strong and mighty. They are played everywhere. Actually, there is quite a happening music scene, only it is not happening in Kasana. Kampala is apparently the clubbing capital of Eastern Africa, and the house music is allegedly very strong. I have this on good authority from Jeff, and he should know because his age starts with a 2.
Hey Mzungu! What’s your favorite Ugandan food?
Rice balls!! Besides doubling as a useful curse, they are also insanely delicious. I asked Hespa’s daughter to make us 100 for the plane ride back to London. I think she thought I was kidding. I assure you, I was not. They are a little spicy, a little chewy, and all kinds of delicious. Ugandan food in general is quite bland. There is a lot of starchy food, potatoes, rice, corn, matoke, which is plantains, mashed up, and yams. There are several kinds of beans, and some lentils. Meat is not eaten often, as it is quite expensive. We went out to eat at a restaurant for lunch the other day, and I was so excited to see some short ribs! I may have eaten a few more than was polite, but it was my first meat in almost two weeks. I also indulged in what I think was goat. I’m really not sure. It was quite flavorful, but extremely tough. Really, it was like rubber, but I persevered. I just wish I knew what I was persevering.
More later, from your Friendly Neighborhood Mzungu!