“Mzungu” is a well-known but little-used term to describe white people here in Africa.
The people who have referred to me as a Mzungu the most are the children.
Walking down a back path of the hospital here, a little girl of about three was walking in my direction. The moment she noticed me, she broke out into a broad smile and started yelling “Hi Mzungu! Hi Mzungu!” as if I was the most extraordinary thing she had ever seen.
As she passed me, she reached up and gave me a high five and great big giggle. It may seem like a tiny, insignificant human interaction, but for me, it was an awesome moment. I was smitten.
That little girl will never remember me, but I will remember her. I didn’t need to take a picture of her or the moment itself – some things are precious precisely because they are recorded only in your memory.
When you see the kids here and meet their parents, it makes you realize how very small this world truly is. And it emboldens me to wish the term “third world” extinguished from our lexicon. If that’s asking too much, let’s at least not teach the term to our own children.
I am certainly no expert on human development or psychology, but from where I sit, I don’t see a bunch of kids here who would identify themselves as inhabitants of some so-called third world. Sure, they have unique challenges and I’m not naïve – most of these kids will struggle to eke out a living. But surely we can try not to denigrate them further by referring to their home as some place so remote that they couldn’t possibly be like our children at home.
What I see here are little kids laughing and playing and going to school. And parents who worry about them and their future. What is so other-worldly about that?
These people, they love like us, laugh like us, dream like us, bleed like us, and are prone to the same human fallibilities as us.
At the very least, let’s acknowledge that we’re all in this together.