Friday, May 7, 2010

Umlungu

I am called by many names here in my rural South African village. The first of which and the most common is Nokuthula. The first night I moved in with my host family in Mpumalanga they gave me the African name, Nokuthula, meaning “quiet and peaceful one” (I would say it’s a fitting name for me). Now that I have moved into my new village I now have a second name. That name is Umlungu, meaning “white person.” For anyone that does not know me by Nokuthula they just simply call me Umlungu. When riding in the local taxis I often here people whispering to each other “who is this umlungu (in Zulu of course)?” thinking that I don’t understand. The best part is when I turn around and greet them in isiZulu. All the looks of skepticism and judgment melt away as they realize that I can speak their language. I then explain in my broken isiZulu that I am from the US and that I volunteer and live in the village. They then greet me with open arms.

I guess I have never really experience truly being a minority before. It is not easy being the odd one out. I often feel part of a game, “Spot the Umlungu.” No matter where I go people point and yell “Umlungu” as though they have just won the prize for finding the umlungu. I also explain it as walking around with a spot light over me. I am always drawing attention and stares. Sometimes I think that if I am far enough away or if it is dark enough people won’t be able to tell that I am an umlungu, unfortunately it does not work that way. I am sure as time goes on I will just be yesterday news, but for right now I am the talk of the town. In fact, if my village had their version of the Enquirer I would make the front page.
The headlines for this week’s Enquirer: “Umlungu deathly ill after walking for hours,”
“Rich American Saves African Family from Bankruptcy,” and “Umlungu Kicks Families out
of Houses.”

Random Thoughts:
I recently learned that I share a birthday with South Africa’s greatest leader, Nelson Mandela. I am very excited about this recent discovery. A few months back during training we took a fieldtrip to the Nelson Mandela Museum in Johannesburg. Here are some quotes from Mandela:

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man
is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
“There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its
children.”
“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

My host father acquired a puppy! It was given to him by a friend. They (my host family) were talking about getting a puppy since Tsotsi is an older dog. The bad part is that the puppy, which I am here by naming Spot, is a very sick little guy. But my host father being the animal lover he is, is nursing Spot back to health.

This weeks pictures: The first picture is of Wandile and me, she is my little two year old niece. The second picture is some of the children at work standing in front of the NOAH sigh. And then there is the picture of Spot.

2 comments:

OlderMusicGeek said...

sounds like the same adventures i used to have being a "lekhoa" in the lesotho taxis!

rukaluka said...

"Umlungu" is very offensive word that shouldn't be used to describe a white man. It is the equivalent to the offensive n**** word - it means you are a witch from the Western world. Settlers bought lots of new technology to Africa, and this was viewed as magic by Zulus in those days.

Imagine walking downtown and over 90% of the people are be black, and then someone shouting ‘hey, you white bastard!’ as in your story above. That's hardly peace and reconciliation that Mandela spoke of. That's fuelling racial tension.

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