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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Hi, Muzungu!

Unidentified flower in the woods.

Hiiiii, Muzungu!

 “Hi, Muzungu” is what little children will shout when they see me (Beth) on the street.  It is used casually in conversation. David went to get an ID card and the receptionist called his dean requesting a letter for him, explaining that he was a muzungu.  When we were introduced by Doug Fountain, an American, at our first church service, the Reverend Canon Frederick Baalwa thanked him for helping with “those Bazungu names”.  It means “stranger”, or, maybe, “European or American”, or possibly, “a person who is always moving nervously”.  It is descriptive and not particularly insulting, as far as I can tell.


Of course, there are a fair number of bazungu at Uganda Christian University and Mukono, so  people are used to seeing foreigners. More importantly, there is a sizable middle class in this college/truck stop town, and although jobs are scarce, even for college graduates, goods, food, transportation and medical care are available.  Universal Primary Education is a reality. People travel, have TVs and use the internet  and no one seems surprised to see a muzungu on the street.

My recollection of this word from Peace Corps Zaire in the early 80’s is not so benign.  It was often followed by “Give me…” or said in a kind of snarky tone.  It was cringe-worthy.  Every language had its word: Mondele in LIngala and Kikongo, Yovo  (meaning peeled banana, if I recall correctly) in the Ivory Coast, Muzungu in Kiswahili.

Great Blue Turacos

I saw a T-shirt on an American that said, “My name is not Muzungu”. True enough. My name is not Muzungu. It also isn’t Freckles, Red, Shorty, or Mom, but I’ve also been called those and didn’t take offense.

The Thirty-Year Wait

Amaranth (dodo), tomatoes, melon, peppers and ntula (bitter eggplant)
Food is cheap (for us), varied and available.  Helen, who works for us, has taken me to the market several times to shop. This is good, because the market is big, dusty and overwhelms me. I walk five minutes to our local grocery, Mr. John B.D.M. Sentoogo’s Family Memorial House, at least once a day, and walk into Mukono several times a week to hit the ATM and several bigger groceries there.  I’ve been shopping in Kampala three times. A day there resembles a hot, dusty scavenger hunt, but you win if you score Cheese! Good bread! A vegetable peeler!

The local all-in-one emporium

Florence and Juliet work at John's.

Helen has made several delicious meals, although she is bemused by our tastes and wants me to teach her how to cook and bake muzungu-style. (Pause for the laughter to die down - I'm not the cook in the family.). This will increase her chances of being hired by bazungu after we leave, so I need to find some recipes. She has made tilapia fresh out of Lake Victoria, matoke (pounded unripe bananas), dodo (amaranth leaves), ugali (millet and cassava paste), nakati ( a green),  and fresh beans with local veggies.

Helen at the sink out back

"This is the meal I've been waiting for,"  he said.
Dodo, matoke and chicken.
Fresh from the market. Nile perch or tilapia?

We have purchased local, raw milk several times, but it turned to yogurt because we were unable to cool it after heating.  Our power was off for about a week, hence no refrigeration.  We weren’t brave enough to eat it after it sat at room temp for several days.

Give us this day our daily food

Around here, food equals carbohydrate. Ordering a dish with “all food” gets you a plate of sweet potato or yam, squash, rice, matoke (banana mash), posho (a heavier version of polenta) and maybe Irish (white potatoes) or cassava.  It comes with a small bowl of fish or meat in a sauce, or groundnut paste.

The Lord’s Prayer is pretty much the same here as in America, but we pray for “food”, not bread, which is entirely appropriate.

A local, and international, tragedy

A note on the death in Mukono of David Kato, a Ugandan gay rights activist this week. Some of you may have seen it on CNN or elsewhere. We were unaware for several days that he had been attacked in his Mukono home.  There has been a spate of violent robberies in town lately, and it is possible that this incident, while tragic, is not related to his sexuality.  We feel safe here.  Anything can happen during the election of February 18, but more on that later.

Sports Are Everywhere

David: And now for sports!  The two major newspapers carry lots of news about international sports of all kinds.  European football/soccer is huge here, usually getting top billing in the headlines and sometimes even more than Ugandan teams receive.  Coppa Italia, the Premier League, AC Milan, Arsenal, and the 2022 World Cup are everywhere.  Every European player trade, every coach firing, every new salary negotiation makes it to the headlines and on the airwaves.  Football/soccer is clearly the #1 sport here, followed by basketball, volleyball, rugby, boxing, and cricket.  Even the Australian Tennis Open made it to the top of the sports section headlines for a few days, even though very few Ugandans play tennis.  All of this reminds me of how xenophobic we seem to be about sports in the US, focusing only on OUR American version of football, or baseball, or basketball.  Rarely do we get news in the US about European, African, South American, etc. competitions unless some US teams or athletes are involved.

Lizard or agana?

The Baboon Threat

This just in: Another type of news you would never see in the US.  Tuesday’s Daily Monitor newspaper had a story entitled, “Baboons exterminated” with a photo and caption that read, “Dead End: Carcasses of baboons killed by the vermin control team over the weekend.”  To quote the article: “At least 30 baboons were counted dead and scores escaped with injuries … when a vermin control team raided their hideout after residents complained of destruction of their farms. … The animals that mainly feasted on cassava and pineapples are also said to have posed a threat to children and women as they go to fetch water from the wells… the baboons also interfere with normal school programmes as they often scare children going to school.  Residents say children have taken advantage of the presence of the baboons to dodge school.”  It’s good to know that children everywhere are the same.

Full moons look the same everywhere. 


  1. Hi Beth and Dave,
    will be following along!Looks like you have settled in.Enjoy the sun.Anything we can send you?

  2. Thanks, Mieke. We are pretty self-sufficient at this point. I had a scare last week when I ran out of reading material but have managed to re-stock the bookshelf. Take care!

  3. We are sitting here waiting for the blizzard to hit. Life sounds so interesting in Uganda. The food does not sound bad, in fact it sounds healthy. Your camera is doing a great job (with your talented input).

  4. Hello Beth and David!!
    I love your blog - keep the updates coming!

  5. Hey........

    Thanks a lot for sharing a good article....

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