Hyphens and Zungu

Back out on the fire escape after three exciting weeks in Maasailand, Kikuyu, Dar Es Salaam, and Zanzibar. It took a while to realize that "Indians" in East Africa don't like to be called anything but African. Forget the hyphenation used by immigrant communities in America. Perhaps it's because "Indian" communities have been there for generations (even though they haven't intermarried or assimilated), or because they're a powerful elite who have been the target of majority resentment. Or maybe it's because all Africans live in a continent ravaged by tribal rivalries and hyphenated identities, and they're trying their best to move towards unity.

In any case, Africans called me "Zungu" which they currently translate as "white foreigner" or "European." I found myself resenting this label. I think I like the original meanings of the word better: extraordinary, peculiar, remarkable, strange, or better still, one who moves freely across borders. That last one definitely fits.