Mzungu, Mzungu!

DAR ES SALAAM, TANZANIA - 13-07-24 - A man photographs sunset over the Indian Ocean on July 24 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by Daniel Hayduk

Some small kids run up and greet me with the words, ‘hé, white person..’ and while the adults sitting around should know better, they do not correct them.

Although I can understand the excitement out in the rural areas where visitors are hardly seen, let alone people of different colour, here in the huge diverse city of Dar it makes no sense.

There are people of all colour and race in Dar and I have long ago decided to ignore calls which are insulting or at least unpleasant.

 A man photographs sunset over the Indian Ocean on July 24 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Photo by Daniel Hayduk

I live here and want to be seen as a person who is aware of culture and greetings.

Some young guys just shout ‘hi’ with an American accent when they see me.

Obviously learnt from watching American movies or maybe tourists who enjoy these greetings.

I usually answer in Swahili as I live here and want to be seen as a person who is aware of culture and greetings.

Some school kids are proud of their English and express a beautiful ‘good morning’ which I then respond to in English as well.

Obviously they are learning the language and hoping for some practise.

Most people, both adults and youngsters are amazingly friendly when passing but when I’m walking the roads those who just call out are usually the guys hanging around boda boda or bajaj stands — mainly out of boredom and lack of respect for anything, it seems.

Mzungu‘, ‘Hiiiih‘, ‘Helloooh‘, ‘Bibi‘ are all improper both in Tanzanian culture and my own.

Knowing how important respect and proper greetings are in Swahili culture I make it a point to always to respond when I’m being greeted.

Though I must admit, it did take me quite a while to find out when and in which language and words I want to react to calls and greetings on the road.

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About the Author

Josie van den Hoek

Josie first visited Dar es Salaam in 2000 and is still here. She writes about encounters on her daily walks and Tanzanian life.

3 Comments on "Mzungu, Mzungu!"

  1. sawa kabisa. I have been fighting the same battle for many years … it is not only children. Even traders for example, so I politely tell them my name is not Mzungu. And I wouldn’t call them ‘we Mswahili …’ either.

  2. Actually it is disturbing always. This happens to many races like “we mwarabu” or “vipi muhindi”. As we are born here now we are used to the situation. Whenever you go starting from bodaboda, local markets, shops, bus stands or even in shops. It is common here.

  3. Don’t take it seriously, please. It is jus a friendly way for some people in Bongo. But if you are really offended I would suggest a chat over Kikombe cha Kahawa.

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