Kenya, Rants

Being white in Nairobi is mostly harmless and can be pretty funny, but being white in Tala is annoying. There are a few things that really annoy me about being non-black in Tala. It’s not that Tala is particularly a bad place; I assume you’d have the same experience if you traveled to a rural area in any country. If you stand out like a sore thumb you’re bound to attract attention (good and bad).

First, people feel so sweet when they’re with their buddies (see: Herd Behavior). They’ll say things when they’re in a group that they’d never say if they were alone. I’m used to that by now, so my heart always starts racing when I see a group of teenagers approaching. It seems like they always have to say as they pass, and it’s usually something provocative (otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this). Go live somewhere where you are different and see how it feels to walk the streets day in and day out by yourself.

Second, some people just never get used to me. For example: the girls at Tala Girls high school. The college’s compound is fenced, and I usually enter through a gate near the high school’s perimeter. The girls usually see me leaving my house through that gate and I’m used to the silly things they say (you know high school girls). I am surprised every once in a while, like last weekend some girls shouted, “Mzungu! Mzungu!” Uhh… these girls are in high school. Have they never seen a white person before? I’m not even sure that’s an excuse, because I’ve lived here for close to TWO YEARS.

Depending on my mood, these range from really pissing me off to being just slightly annoying.


Funny things happen when you’re white and you walk around Nairobi. Here’s a few things I’ve noticed:

  • Every cab driver thinks you want a cab
  • Every tour guide thinks you want to go for a safari
  • Every begger gets excited when they see you, then they give their best “Jambo! Hello!”
  • People selling trinkets get excited when they see you (like, “Yeah! Now that you mention it, I DID want a box of matches!”)
  • Shoes shiners want to polish your shoes

Sometimes I tell them funny things, like I’ll tell the cab drivers ndio hizi (like, “yeah, these”) and point to my feet, or nataka kuenda kwa miguu (“I want to go on foot”). It’s harder to be nice to the safari dudes; if I’m annoyed I’ll just tell them mimi si mtalii (“I’m not a tourist”). I know that’s a bit rude so I always feel bad after. I guess you can’t blame them for assuming you’re a tourist. The hilarious thing about the shoe shiners is that I am usually wearing sandals when they ask me… they laugh when I point to my feet and say, “No thanks!”

Realistically, any person who isn’t black probably experiences these things (Japanese, Swedish, etc). There are plenty of non-black Kenyans, but I don’t know any so I’m not sure if they have similar experiences. I guess the locals can tell if you’re a foreigner.

Karibu Kenya (“you’re welcome in Kenya”!)

Kenya, Rants

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.