There are the Africa regulars. Types of people that, without fail, I can always count on seeing when I am in Africa. I distinguish them easily now:
1) The grizzly beards, slightly wrinkled and too short khakis and polo shirts of the modern missionary. May have wife in frizzy outdated hairstyle and small toddlers in tow.
2) The dark, no-business suits of the businessmen and diplomats, who look uncomfortable when they have to leave their air-conditioned cars and stand outside in the midday heat.
3) The threadbare tank tops, rugged shorts, gigantic backpacks and dreads (oh the horror) of who else — the backpackers — who somehow always have to take their gigantic backpacks wherever they go.
4) The imported sunglasses, ready willingness to show you how tough he/she is at bargaining and easy swagger of the young expat (not to be confused with number three) who works at a NGO, the UN, a safari company or is a journalist of some type. They live here, so please don’t mistake them for being just travelers.
5) The perfect manicures/pedicures and pastel-colored clothes of the expat wives who look like their sole titles should be “ladies who lunch.”
6) The bloodshot eyes from too many days of too much decadence and the voracious, insatiable alcohol appetite of hardened longtime Africa residents.
The ones I can never tell: the foreigners of African, Asian and Indian descent, like me, who are camouflaged by their surroundings. Still different, but not mzungus (white expats), we’re a little hard to find.
“Look at these mzungus,” my taxi driver said one day as we drove by a curio market on the roadside. I smiled.
“How do you say “mzungus” in English?” he asked.
“Mmm, white people,” I said.
“Yes, white people,” he confirmed.
But technically the term “mzungu” means “foreigner” in Swahili and since I’m technically a foreigner, I wanted to get his opinion.
“But am I a mzungu?” I asked him.
No, no!” he responded.
“You and me, we look the same, no one would be able to tell the difference,” he said.
Photo via JCS Cycles