Monday, September 26, 2011

Useful Proposals

Let me just tell you, Jeanette may look younger and prettier than me, but I am worth about 400 cows. At 600,000 Tanzanian shillings per cow, that means about $150,000 for a bride price. I hope my parents don’t mind that I turned down the marriage offer from the lovely Maasai man who sat next to me in the pick-up truck on the way back to Lushoto from our hike. The tall, chubby man didn’t seem to be exaggerating when he said he had 10,000 cows. His girth was proof enough. As he said, it takes a lot of milk and meat from his herd to make him that fat. And though his four wives sounded like a companionable group of sisters – he married sisters to prevent in-fighting – I don’t think I would enjoy bearing six children. Jeanette didn’t seem to like the idea either.                                                                                                                                         
Despite that, he did teach me a valuable lesson about Tanzanian culture in general. During the ride, the conductor ask him for his fare by saying in Swahili, “Hey, Maasai man, give me the money.” To which he answered, “Swahili man, take this.” There was no shyness on either side about just referring to the other by their tribe. Though the Maasai are Tanzanian, they are often considered to be different from “normal” Tanzanians. The Maasai man referred to all non-Maasai Tanzanians as Swahili people, no matter what their tribe. It was the equivalent of all white people being called “Wazungu.” I asked my seat companion if he minded being called “Mmaasai,” and he said no. He seemed surprised that I would even ask. He said when his kids see a “Swahili man” when out taking care of the cows, they yell “Mswahili” to him just as they would “Mzungu” to a white person. (The “m” or “wa” prefix on a word means it refers to a person or people.)
As you might have noticed, children and even adults in this country have no aversion whatsoever to yelling “white person” at you or to referring to you as a white person in a conversation. Though blatantly identifying someone by their race or ethnic group in the States is considered exceptionally rude, here it’s just normal. I always thought it was specific to white people because we are rich, strange looking creatures who might give out money. Apparently not. Apparently racial or ethnic difference just is, so why make it taboo to mention it?
Knowing that makes it somehow less annoying when I hear a chorus of “wazungu” from children who are so far away that I can’t even see them. Not completely okay because sometimes it would be nice not to be a walking circus attraction, but in truth, maybe sometimes I just need to lighten up. Of course, maybe I also need to go get my 400 cows before all my hair falls out, and I look even older… (So long as Jeanette is okay with that.)

Note: Jeanette is not okay with that.

1 comment:

  1. Love the lesson! The pictures from the hike were great, too. How awesome is that boca boca tree?