Sunday, June 7, 2009


So, great news! One of my dear fellow volunteers just returned from
North America and brought me a new charger for my computer! In case
you hadn’t heard, my last one was blown out in the Great Generator
Disaster of Nyakarambi, where the whole town was without electricity
for five days and when it came back on, half the light bulbs and one
computer charger had been destroyed. What followed was nearly a month
without access to my computer: no music, no movies, no writing blogs
from home. It sucked. I sort of feel like a whiner for complaining
so much, I mean, you can give me the whole “back in my day” speech and
it’s true, almost no one around here has a laptop, why should it be so
hard for me? Well, it was hard because I’m not from around here.
Everybody needs relaxation time, and for the first four months, mine
involved listening to my music. When that was taken away, all the
little things, the irritants, the annoyances, about living here began
to get to me and I could not just shrug them off like I used to. I
had no escape. Fortunately, it’s not a problem anymore! And just in
time too. With three more weeks until exams, I’ve got a lot of
grading and planning to do, and music makes it that much better.

I’d like to just comment on Rwandese radio for a moment. Not a big
fan. There’s BBC, which is great for world news, but not really for
music. Plus sometimes it’s in French, and it used to have a
Kinyarwanda hour as well (until it was ordered off the air by the
government for supposedly promoting genocide ideology (which in this
case meant a call in show where people questioned the cover up of
reprisal killings), Sketch!). There’s VOA, which can have really good
music, and pretty good world news, but again has other language hours,
plus can be a real tool of American propaganda. Plus, sometimes it’s
broadcast in ‘special English’
I have found a few other good stations, but I can never count on one
actually playing music at any one time. There are a lot of call in
shows, a lot of talk shows, and most of it is in Kinyarwanda. When
they do play music, it tends to be the same 10 songs over and over, so
no matter how much you like them the first time, they cease to be
quite as enjoyable.

Lizard update 1: Sometimes lizards fight on my ceiling and them fall
to the floor, shake themselves off and run away.

Lizard update 2: Sometimes big lizards try to eat the tiny ones. The
sucker for the underdog that I am, I try to prevent this from
happening, usually just in the nick of time. Which means I have a
couple of tiny lizards running around minus their tails.

Lizard update 3: I saw an enormous lizard outside my house the other
day. It was about a foot long, plus the tail. So far I haven’t seen
it inside.

The rainy season has ended! Finally! I can dry clothes on the line
and walk to school without getting covered in mud. The dust is
starting to be a problem however…

So, I kind of blew up at a bus full of Rwandese a couple weeks ago
(notice I I said blew up AT a bus. Sort of a different meaning without
that preposition…) It had been a weekend full of being hassled for
being white, and I was having none of it. I got on a bus to head home
to the usual titters and “muzungu” comments and I started to simmer.
A woman sat down next to me and made even more comments. I laugh
right back in her face, but my tension was reaching it’s breaking
point (remember, no music=much more tense). I was sitting by the
window and had it partially open, with my arm hanging out since it was
a hot day and I decided to keep it open once we started driving. For
all you back home, you probably don’t realize that Rwandese generally
don’t like windows open on buses. So the man behind me tried to close
the window with my arm in it. He apologized but it was almost too
late. Seconds later the woman beside reached over to also try to shut
the window (not asking me to do it) and I lost it. I smacked her hand
away and started yelling in 3 different languages “My name is not
muzungu, that’s so rude, I hate it, I don’t go around calling you all
blacks!” The whole bus (probably even the driver) were staring at me
in disbelief. Finally, I ended my rant, yanked the window wide open
and sat there with my arms crossed, just daring someone to say
something. Nobody did. The next hour was actually quite
uncomfortable with the wind blowing right in my face but I didn’t
care. I felt so good!

Now, this probably wasn’t a good way to handle the situation, but with
the language barrier it was about all I could do, and I had to do
something. I have decided to take a stand against the term “muzungu”.
First of all, categorizing people based on race is not something
anybody should do. It’s not like they are calling us Europeans or
Americans, they are calling us whites (or whitey). Rwanda is
undergoing a massive drive for modernization and investment, and part
of this should be not using racial labels for guests, outsiders and
visitors! Second, Rwandese, of all people, should know better. This
is a country that witnessed the horrible consequences of racial
categorization and it’s forbidden to label people has Hutu or Tutsi.
Why is it ok to label people as whitey?

Of course, the term muzungu is used differently, and it doesn’t
always bother me. Very little kids use it only because they were
taught by their parents to say it when they see me, and they when they
say it you can tell they are just so excited! It can also be used as
a description, like “oh, he’s that muzungu over there.” This doesn’t
bother me. Rwandese will say similar things about other Rwandese,
like “oh, he’s the brown one” or “he’s the black one”, referring to
the different shades of skin colour that exist here. This is fine!
The problem comes when the term is tinged with something else, scorn
maybe, or sniggering. This is when the word becomes Whitey or Honky
instead of white person. I hear this constantly: “Hey Whitey! Where
are you going?”, “Whitey! Give me money!”, “Ha, look, there’s a
freakin’ Whitey on the bus! Isn’t that hilarious?” It becomes a
label, and not a friendly one and it creates division, not the unity
that is such as buzzword here. So, if any Rwandse are reading this
blog, please, don’t call us muzungus. You’re better than that.

Next week I promise I’ll stop talking about such heavy topics. I’ll
go back to silly anecdotes and lame jokes.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

anonymous, that's mean..hey andy, your dad says you can't get the weekend off for the annual family picnic....YOU SURE WILL BE MISSED... love from auntie c

Anonymous said...

anonymous #1....p.s. i did laugh though... auntie c

Sara Janes said...

I know this is totally irrelevant to the real point of your post, but "special english radio" sounds totally awesome.
Annoying to the fluent, perhaps, but still -- how often do most of us here in the West have the opportunity to improve our second language skills through popular media designed expressly for the purpose?
Wish I had access to something like that. Well, in something not-English, of course ...

Also, now I'm picturing some sort of twisted lizard matryoshka dolls.

Anonymous said...

Hey Andy! I'm reading your blog for the first time. It looks like you are having fun and doing well, minus the bus incident. There also seems to be a trend of you putting flowers in your hair, it's cute. What are your plans when you come back to the states? I hope it includes coming to our wedding in exactly one year from now. Take care and miss you much!
-Alison Wipf

mugizi said...

hey andy,in the name of all rwandans,i apologizy.u shouldn'T take it so seriously!i mean... rwandese don'T know how to be better about it ,they've been always like that,occidentals where for them ,like people from other planets!!if u see what i mean!but things are improving,can'T u see that in kigali people are less muzungu-izing!well if u came in 1995,it was the same in the whole country!