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Waiting to see what the children will do.

I want to relate a fairly typical African and probably third-world experience of musungus (whites), but one that is alien in our own culture. I related in an earlier post from this trip that our rented vehicle broke down on the side of the road on the way to our first meeting. What happened while we were there demonstrates much about the culture and how we are perceived as we travel about here in Uganda.

There was a ten foot bank next to the road where we stopped. Atop the bank was a well-worn pathway and beyond was a small community of homes and garden patches. There was intermittent traffic back and forth along the path, but it was Sunday, so it was not what I would regard as “busy.” About 30 yards down the path there were some children playing.

One brave child approaches and tests the water...

One brave child approaches and tests the water…

These children immediately began to play “musungu games,” which include calling out, “Musungu, Bye-ee,” which seems to be the way all Ugandan children say hello to musungus. Then a group of about four of them began to approach along the path, and if I even looked their way, they would scream and run back to the safety of their yard. Many African children who do not frequently see musungus or interact with them begin their musungu adventures with great reservation and even fear. If the car is passing and there is no chance they will have to personally interact, they scream, “Musungu,” and run about joyfully as if receiving a huge and unexpected gift , sometimes even chasing along with the car. But when the car stops and the musungu actually steps out onto the ground, many will run in fear and hide. Yes, we are that strange to them.

I have been told that the older children love to regale the younger ones with tales of the

Then there were four...

Then there were four…

musungu who chases the children, catches them and eats them. I have even heard stories from the adults about whites who take children – these tales are all rumors; in the villages they love to pass on the latest juicy rumor, and I’m sure the children are absorbing every word.

So the small group of children were alternately approaching and running, having a wonderful time. Finally, since we had so much free time

suddenly thrust upon us, I moved to the top of the bank and sat down in the grass, just to see what would happen. They were totally shocked, and at first they retreated – I had called their bluff. But finally little by little, the bravest of them came hesitantly down the path. after some time, a small group had gathered, maybe four of them, and I was demonstrating my standard, this-is-how-the- westerner-greets-you games of high five, fist bump etc., encouraging each of them to engage with me.

8...

8…

This went on and the group began to grow. This is really what I’m getting to in this post. Once the ice was broken, the children began to come from all around. The little group of four grew to six, then ten. In a short time, there were more than twenty laughing children fist bumping me and chattering their practice primary school English on me. I am always amazed at how fast a group of children can grow in Uganda, how happy they are to play with an actual musungu, how they love to rub the skin of my arm, amazed, I guess, at the strange whiteness of it (perhaps if I rub it, the coloring will come off and reveal a normal person like me).

I entertain such groups with my camera, taking snaps, then showing them the results, or even a little video of them playing or dancing, which never fails to astonish them and hold their gazes intently. They always reach out to touch the little LCD screen on the camera, and I am always juggling it up away from their touches so it doesn’t become smeared with fingerprints and other things.

 

Finally, I must have fist bumped 25-30 children good-bye when the repairman showed up, and we moved along toward our destination. I

Suddenly the fear is gone, and many come to examine me...

Suddenly the fear is gone, and many come to examine me…

can’t imagine American children behaving this way for a visitor, or even being interested. It says something about living simply, having simple pleasures versus having one’s nose buried in an electronic device. It seems more authentic.

Finally, we say good-bye, all of us equally blessed, I hope...

Finally, we say good-bye, all of us equally blessed, I hope…

I miss it when I return home – no matter how much I coach my grandchildren, they simply will not flock around me as if thrilled to see me, shouting, “Musungu, Bye-ee…” They do still hug me a lot though, and, I confess, that I would never trade that for “Musungu, Bye-ee,” even as utterly charming as it is.