Kenya, Rants

Jina Langu

My name is “Alan,” and if you don’t know my name, please just say, “Hi!” or any of the other greetings you use on your fellow Kenyans. Jina langu si “British” or “mzungu.” I don’t know what your parents told you, but I don’t think white people like being called either of those names. In fact, in America, it’s borderline racist to yell someone’s ethnicity or nationality at them. You don’t see me walking around shouting “Kenyan!” at people.

I know it’s not a huge problem, but I walk two kilometers to the market every day; it’s like a gauntlet. People on the left yelling “mzungu,” on the right saying, “British, how are you?” and mamas instructing their babies to look at me, pointing openly. Sometimes I’ll even pass a group of high school boys and that is pretty intimidating (they’ll say things in groups that they’d never say if they were alone). I used to get annoyed and say things like, Mimi si British (I am not British) or “I am American” until I realized that, even if I was British, that’s no way to greet a person!

These days I usually just say Jina langu si mzungu (my name is not mzungu). This at least prompts some productive dialog like, “Ni nani?” (it’s who?). The little kids honestly don’t know any better, so I just smile and wave, but the teenagers should. After all, it’s considered a bit abusive to call other Kenyans by their tribe. Wewe mkamba, kuja hapa (You Kamba, come here).

To be honest, I used to get offended that they thought I was British (not that being American is anything to brag about)… but I don’t think they can tell the difference between someone who comes from the USA, Sweden, Germany, etc. It’s understandable, though, because I can’t tell the difference between a Kenyan and Ugandan or a Tanzanian. Funny enough, I’m almost positive a Tanzanian would be upset if I called him a Kenyan, so it’s a good thing I don’t go around calling people by their nationality.

Oh well, we all need something to complain about. That’s just life. Thanks for reading.

5 Comments

  1. john

    haha, your article made my day. I am actually a Kenyan currently living in Asia and indeed calling a person by his race/nationality is belittling. I think you should wear a t-shirt with an informative print on it like:”Jina langu si mzungu” for a day or two to get the wananchi educated.

    Kwaheri

  2. habari

    i stumbled on your blog a few days ago and it has to be the most hilarious thing ever :)
    i am the opposite of you – african in the US. I’m really shocked that people dont really like the mzungu tag. it never ever occurred to me as a child how someone who is white would percieve it. we always thought that its fine. Thanks for the insight though, when i get back home i’ll be sure to educate as many people as i can on cultural sensistivity.
    All i hope is that you don’t take it in a bad way, we honestly do not mean to be cruel or anything.

    1. Alan Author

      I’m used to it, I guess it just depends on my mood! I don’t know how many mzungus who bebwa na mathree every day and say “Niaje?” when they walk into the office. Maybe it’s a case of mistaken identity on my part… I’m not Kenyan, hah!

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