I hear joy hollered from the road side as I cycle past raising my tired arm from the grips of the dusty handle bars struggling to form another droopy hand wave. It is possibly the 137th wave of the morning as the word “mzungu” imprints into my psyche. Uganda is the most welcoming joyful country I have pedaled in some time …although technically speaking these insanely happy people are calling me names, I chuckle to myself. I then pull over to the side of the road to say hello to the elated road side crowd and to take photos of more uniquely bizarre creatures. A pair of 3 foot birds with protruding double chins are stumbling around the lime green terraced hillside amidst long horned cattle. The birds are acting like drunken sailors avoiding bovine obstacles in search of a drink.
“Hello my name is Madame Mzungu”,
I say as I stretch out my freshly freckled arm to greet the brothers who are standing to the front of the group. Their rounded faces, sparkling front teeth and crab apple cheeks are uncontrollably grinning. Their dark shiny eyes dance as their bellies humorously jiggle. The morning light shines through the younger brother’s iridescent curly black hair. His brown Barrack Obama t-shirt is proudly tucked over his belly into his jeans. His torso shakes uncontrollably as he laughs at my introduction.
My new name, Madame Mzungu is a joke of sorts to keep me sane and energetic amidst so much well meaning roadside attention. Choosing to self entertain and give up on cycling too many KM’s after the 138th kind, welcoming, sweet person of the morning insists on hollering for me to stop to say hello from the road side. I try to remember something I read about Uganda as I stop once again to chat with new friends. In the 1980’s under the bludgeoning rule of Amid, Uganda was put on the map for mass killings and giving all Asians 30 days to evacuate the country. The Ugandan spirit has weathered well although due to it’s past, the country still sees far fewer visitors then neighboring Kenya and Tanzania. Therefore, everyone is happy to just have a visitor to chat with.
The man wearing the Barack Obama shirt says laughing so hard he can hardly catch his breath to continue…
“You see, during the time of colonization, Ugandans had a hard time pronouncing the European peoples given names and invented the word ‘mzungu’, it means white person. The word has been past down from our ancestors and people laugh when they say it because it is a funny word to get out of the mouth”
“Oh…right on, Madame Mzungu is happy to hear that, although I am more pink then white due to my equatorial sunburn”, I say peering at my sun baked hands as the contagious sound of the young man’s bellowing chuckle uncorks my laughter. I feel in that instant how unusually funny I must appear in his eyes, standing over a bicycle with neon pink skin, taking photos of a herd of long horned cattle, his dinner. After a chat about Barack Obama, a hugely popular man in Africa, how to care for healthy cattle, how much we all like matoke, Uganda’s traditional cuisine of boiled plantains with peanut sauce, I say my goodbyes and pedal on heading over the dusty but lush terraced hillside towards the Rwandan border.