So what is an azungu?
It’s a word that translates to ‘white foreigner’ and a word that a white person in Malawi will hear 50 times a day.
In the beginning it can be easy to ignore, but day in day out it can wear on you!
Sometimes it makes me think: why am I being singled out? Other days I try to decipher the true meaning or feeling behind this word. Are people excited to see a foreigner, do they see dollars trailing me, do they think I am open for unlimited friends and relationships?
Other times my mind strays to imagining what it would be like in Canada in 2014 if every time we saw a black person we called out ‘black foreigner!’. Eek!
But I have to remind myself, who it is in Malawi that is most commonly using the word – children and less educated people. I cannot expect either of these groups to understand first what it feels like to be in a foreign country, or that all of the attention can be overkill.
So I asked some Malawians what they think about this word. Here are some of their answers:
-This word is not being used in a disrespectful manner, but because people (especially children) are excited to see you.
– Sometimes really cool black people can also be called azungu.
-Some of these people are from very rural villages, have little to no education and just do not know how to treat foreigners. They may use this word out of surprise or excitement because they rarely see foreigners or they are living Kwacha to Kwacha (the money in Malawi) and have preconceived ideas about foreigners.
Last interesting fact: Azungu is a Swahili word used in Malawi (the language here is Chichewa mostly). In Tanzania where I had my last contract they speak the Swahili and they use the word mzungu in the same context. If you speak French, think of the ‘m’ prefix like ‘tu’ (singular you, or informal you) and the ‘a’ prefix like ‘vous’ (plural you, or formal you). I am not sure the reason behind the difference in the two countries, but while I am in Malawi, maybe it will make me feel better thinking that people are at least using the respectful form of the word!