These are the three most common greetings I get from children in Tanzania.
3. “Give me my money!” Before moving to Tanzania, I expected to be asked for money often. I am. And I know pronouns are one of the easiest things to get confused in any language — it seems Tanzanian children have an especially hard time with possessive pronouns. But my question is why are they even wanting to say, “give me YOUR money?” Are they holding up a bank?! Shouldn’t it just be, “give me money,” with no pronoun at all? Anyway, this phrase can be pretty annoying, because it’s often said with such force that it sounds angry and demanding.
How I want to respond: While waving a 1000 shilling bill in the air, “I was going to give you this, kid, but you asked so very rudely. I guess I’ll give it to that child over there who politely addressed me in proper Swahili. Maybe I’ll buy him some ice cream, too.”
2. “Mzungu!” This is what westerners are called in Tanzania. Its origins in Swahili seem to refer to foreigners always being busy, doing this and that, running back and forth, refusing to just sit still. I think “mzungu” would originally have been best translated as “one who runs around in circles.” But it’s come to mean “foreigner from the west” and in some places is the equivalent of “whitey.” Kids are especially good about yelling and screaming “mzungu” hundreds of times when I pass their homes during my morning run. You would think they had been given the task of standing watch while their families cooked stews made from white people parts. What is truly ironic about these deafening mzungu alarms is that the kids do this while physically and literally running in circles. Yeah, who’s the mzungu now?
How I want to respond: By screaming “Mtanzania (Tanzanian), Mtanzania, Mtanzania,” while I jump up and down and point.
1. “What is my name?” And I’m not trying to say they ask me MY name; no, they ask me their name. Again, it’s this confusion with possessive pronouns. But there is just something hilarious to me about a teenage guy yelling “mzungu” to get my attention, and immediately following up by asking me to use my light-skin powers of extrasensory perception to tell him what his name is. And all of this is done inside of the three seconds it takes me to jog past where this guy’s sitting on the side of the road. No hello, conversation, small talk, or excuse me — just “Mzungu! What is my name?!” Like I’m on some sort of high speed quiz show. But I guarantee if I get the answer right, he doesn’t pay me with HIS money.
How I want to respond (and exactly the way I do): “I do not know your name,” as I smile and continue running past.
What funny things do kids say where you live?