15 June 2006

you crazy white girls

by Cecily
Emily and I walked "downtown" today. We had the afternoon off because all of the children are cleaning the school.

I think they're cleaning. They're doing something, and whatever it is means that they were all busy. Communicating with all the people at this school has been pretty hilarious. The head nun talks to me in French and Italian, and once in a while I understand it, especially when she throws in some Rwandan sign language. Mostly I just say "oui" a lot of times and hope for the best.

She gave up on Emily right away, and now she will start to say something to Emily, then stop and throw up her hands in despair and hug Emily a lot. Then we all laugh.

Anyway we went downtown. I have no idea if it is actually called downtown or not. We got there by walking up to one street, and turning left, and walking until we got to the Chinese Embassy, and turning right, and walking to the next big street and turning left again, and then I'm not sure what we did after that. I totally knew where we were the entire time though.

We stomped our way through all the dust and shards of glass and politely shook our heads at all the people selling things at us. We were trying to find this one store on this one street that I went to two years ago this one time. I didn't remember how I got there or what street it was on though, so it's probably not super surprising that we didn't find it.

We did find many, many office supply stores however. And a number of dead or partly-dead chickens. We were dying of thirst and heat and sunburn so we had just decided to give up, when we magically found the store we were looking for.

No, just kidding. We didn't. We did find another, similar store, and we went into it and bought some things.

We were really excited to stop at a restaurant on the way back to have a beer. We had seen this restaurant on the way over. Its name is... something that starts with K. Karibu! So we were talking excitedly about this excellent idea, and how we were going to really enjoy the beer, and the water, and how great it was going to be. So I didn't really notice one boy among them all who was being especially insistent about selling something. I kept signing, and Emily kept looking at me, and the boy kept talking, and Emily kept ignoring him. So he switched from English to French, and then when that didn't work yelled "CRAZY MZUNGUS!"* and crossed the street back to his friends.

That's right. We ARE crazy.

*mzungu = kinyarwanda (and kiswahili) for "white person". Literally it means "foreigner" or "traveler" but in reality, it means "white".


  1. Funny!!! I didn't know Rwanda had a language that shared words with Kiswahili.

    'Mzungus' is an interesting example of code-switching. The plural should be 'wazungu' but because it's also used in English context, the English plural is applied deriving 'mzungus.' Isn't that cool???

    Love your stories and pictures.

  2. "Crazy Mzungus?" Maybe it means "Charlie Mingus"? - GUY

  3. Hey Julie! I think the Kinyarwanda may be borrowed from the Kiswahili. I'm not sure. I'll have to do some research on that.

    I was thinking about the plural formations too. My theory is that the whole utterance is English, with "mzungu" borrowed into English from the Kinyarwanda. To test this hypothesis, I'd have to find someone calling me and someone else crazy white people but with "crazy" in Kinyarwanda, and since Emily wouldn't recognize whatever that word is, chances of me proving it are slim.

    Maybe I'll try to gather up some informants and do grammaticality tests on them. Not today though.

    GUY: It means "crazy white people", like I said.

  4. My dad says I spelled it wrong. It's supposed to be "muzungu". Since the phonetic spelling is all borrowed from the English/French alphabet anyway, I am pretty sure it's not a huge error.

    He also says the Kinyarwanda plural is "abazungu" not "muzungu". But the same discussion still applies.

    Emily read all those comments and said "Linguistics people are so weird."