Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Running Wazungu

My new home is in Bungoma, Kenya. Most guidebooks make no reference at all to Bungoma. If they do, it isn't to say especially friendly things about it. Mostly, guidebooks note the single attraction as the presence of ATMs to get funds before or after crossing the Ugandan border at Malaba. The biggest industry here certainly isn't tourism, but that's not to say that it's totally devoid of charms. In fact, my first week here, I got to experience one of the many delights of being fair-skinned in Kenya. For anyone who's been on safari in the area, you've probably also had the chance to purchase a t-shirt that labels you what passersby of all ages, but especially children, call out as a rule: MZUNGU! (lit: white person.) My experience probably wasn't especially unique, but it was especially adorable.

Near the compound where I live is a footpath that makes a very convenient 5k loop for the runners in our group. My husband, himself a marathoner, loves it - it offers spectacular agricultural views, occasional obstacles (little rivers), and a chance to run without breathing in the diesel on the regular roadway. So, during my first week, I accompanied him on a portion of the run (I am about as far from a marathoner as one can humanly be...). As we turned off our dirt road onto the footpath, about 4 little children squealed out in delight "WAZUNGU! WAZUNGU! (White people! White people!)" Undeterred, we continued to run, now accompanied by the little children. The smallest and also most excited of our parade decided to strike up a conversation in Swahili:

Child: Wazungu! Why are you running?
David: Eh! For exercise! We want to become stronger!
Child: Wazungu! Where do you come from?
Sarah: We are from America - where do you come from?
Child: I come from my house!

Not quite the answer I'd anticipated, but one I thought was pretty good for a 3 or 4 year old, if not a bit on the literal side.

The rest of the run wasn't nearly so enjoyable - mainly consisting (on my part) of panting and whining for a walk-break. When we got close to the compound, however, it was already twilight and I started to notice little bugs coming up out of the ground on white wings. A woman was kneeling over an especially busy patch catching them up and promptly sticking them in her mouth. A little shocked, I whispered to David, "is she seriously eating those?" He laughed - apparently I'm quite ignorant - after heavy rains, the termites fly out of the ground and are eaten as a delicacy here. Some people eat them right out of the ground, but plenty catch as many as they can to fry and sell at the market the next day. I still haven't tasted them, but I think my time is coming.


  1. Hey Dave....good to see you back in Africa!
    My favourite is chizungu - one who is aimlessly wandering. Ie - what are you always doing and where are you going in your cars/buses/planes. Just chill.

    Looking forward to keeping up to date with the exploits...
    Gerald - (Istanbul Escapades)

  2. I'm excited to hear about the termites when you try them. That story about the kids was great! Miss yall!