My neighbors could not have not been more right in giving me this piece of advice. Church is a religious experience as much as it is a social and cultural one. Yesterday I attended church for 4 hours, by far the longest I’ve ever sat on a wooden bench with 300 other people atop a mountain in a sun lit church. If you have ever been to “African church”, as my neighbor says, you would know that it’s a celebration of life and coming together as much as it is showing appreciation and thanks for the life lived.
And so here I am. The “muzungu,” trying to understand my place in this world of Rwandan farmers, dirt roads, and friendly faces. So what did I do for 4 hours you may ask. 4 hours of church in a language I do not know, actually provided time to think.
There’s a thought/apprehension that passed through briefly, the idea that despite being here for two years, there’s a chance that I will always be known as the muzungu. It could be “our muzungu” but muzungu nonetheless. Muzungu means foreigner and more specifically, refers to people with fairer skin.
Being a stranger feels exactly as it sounds. You walk down the street and hear muzungu echoing off the walls of the surrounding mountains, an alert of sorts, sounded by children in local and surrounding villages. You go to the market and the seller tries to overcharge you. Most of this is out of your control. But you can control your behavior and actions. While some days this can really hit home, it’s important to remember that the majority of people do not mean any harm and that if it were the reverse situation, I’m sure I would feel the same way about a stranger in the area.