Rwanda Diary: I am a Muzungu

by Hannah Frantz

Muzungu: noun. Foreign person, derived from a word literally meaning “confused person.” 

Sometimes when I walk through the streets people shout “Muzungu, Muzungu” at me. It’s not an offensive term by any means, just a statement. But it always makes me hyperaware of my skin color, which is definitely an experience I needed to have. In fact, I think it’s an experience most white people should have.

Anyway, so much has happened since my last post. I hope I can catch you up.

A few days ago we did what is called our “drop off” project. However, it’s more of a “let loose” project than anything. Our program staff put us into pairs and assigned each pair a mission and then literally set us loose. Daniel, our program director, knew I was terrified of public transportation, so naturally he assigned me to investigate the transportation situation in Kigali. I went with my partner, Betsy, and we hopped onto a minibus that we thought was going to the center of the city and set out to find a bus route map. No such thing exists, or at least that’s the conclusion we came to after three hours of asking people for one. I’ve found that the best approach to trying to take a minibus from one place to another in Kigali is to just keep repeating the part of the city you need to get to until someone ushers you on a bus and then just hope that something looks familiar. I’m living in Kimironko (pronounced Chimeeronko) and the school is in Kicyru (pronounced Kicheeroo), so those are the names I have to remember. People are always willing to help, though, so I’m never ashamed to ask if I’m on the correct bus. Which leads me to my next point….

Rwandans are about the nicest people you will ever meet. Whenever I pass someone on the street and arbitrarily throw out a “Muraho,” most people will stop to shake my hand and say “Amakuru” which means “How are you?” I’ve learned that the proper response is “Nimeza” (I’m fine). I have to be careful with how much Kinyarwanda I use, though, because sometimes people start talking to me in Kinyarwanda after I’ve asked them how they are and all I know from that point out is “oya” which means “no.” But I’m sure I’ll get there. I honestly think most Rwandans appreciate it when you even make the effort to throw out a “Muraho.” Anyway, back to my initial point, they are really the friendliest people you’ll find anywhere. There have been countless times, especially when Betsy and I were desperately trying to find a bus map, when I called on random passers-by to ask for help. If the people you ask don’t know, they then seek more people out to make sure that they help you. In the states you’ll be lucky if someone even smiles at you as you walk by. Americans think of African weather as being hot, but the people are warmer, too.

I also met my host family for the first time yesterday. And this led to the smallest small world story ever. My family has been a host family before, and when my host sister, Vicky, asked me if I’d ever met Nicole, her former host sister I automatically explained to her that there was not a chance that I did because in all likelihood she was somewhere else in the US that I’d never been. However, when she showed me Nicole’s phone number, I realized we had the same area code. So I got a little curious. We called Nicole and it turns out that she’s from Dallas, Pennsylvania just like me and went to the local public high school near my house. Her brother even goes to my high school. As I say, small world.

My host family is very warm, welcoming and nice. I still don’t know much about them because it’s only been a day or so, but they have been so kind to me.

My living situation is different from my friends’, I think, because I believe my family has a different socio-economic standing. There are five kids, although I’ve only met three (plus two cousins) and the mother. While most of my peers had their own bedrooms with hot water and showers, I actually shared a bed with my sister, Vicky. My bathroom doesn’t have any running water, so whenever I want to shower or flush the toilet, I have to go outside and fill a jug with water and bring it back inside to do so. Bucket showers aren’t new to me, and I am completely fine with taking them for the semester, but it’s certainly interesting to look at the differences between all of the host families. My host mom has been very sweet and she always hugs me and kisses me on both cheeks when she sees me. Wilson even taught me how to play FIFA. That’s right – I play FIFA! And I even beat him once…but only once. Tomorrow I think we will go swimming, although I’m not sure where because I haven’t seen a swimming pool.

I did finally get a cell phone and an MTN (Internet stick). However, I’ve had trouble with it and it won’t be working well until later this week. Hopefully I get the hang of it soon.

Real classes start on Monday so I’m both nervous and excited for that. It will also be my first time doing public transit alone. Wish me luck.

5 comments on “Rwanda Diary: I am a Muzungu

  1. Hey, great post…and we’re very sympathetic. My wife and I are in Gitarama doing medical volunteer work for the next 2 months. If you want to actually go somewhere, by the way, don’t take the crowded minibuses…go with Volcano or Horizon if possible, and make a reservation or there’s a (slight) chance you won’t get a seat on the bus. Also, I have TIGO for internet….my boss told me it’s better than MTN for that purpose. Good luck and welcome to friendly Rwanda!

  2. Hi,
    I’m not sure who told you that Muzungu means a confused person but as far as I know (and I’m a Rwandan) it comes from “Kuzungura” meaning to take over. So a Muzungu means That who is coming to take over.

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