“Muzungu!” I know that word. I want to look up- to look at the people calling to me, the stalls with clothes, vegetables, fruit, spices, but I look down at my feet, at the dirt ground. I think I might fall on the small, uneven rocky path I’m sharing with hundreds of other confident locals (who don’t need to look down when they are walking). I’m like a ghost walking through the village market. People stare at me, talk to me, follow me, a man stops so close to me that I have to stop abruptly, almost running into him.
I walk to the local market outside of town, every taxi honks and stops to pick me up- where is that muzungu going? Why is she walking? I walk through the narrow market alleys, going deeper into the small passages, the maze of stands, people, and food. I see clothes, shoes spread out on the ground, fruit I don’t recognize, nuts, beans, spices. I wander into the fish market, deep inside, and curiously ask what the brown, greasy, rolled up fish is. I foolishly swat away the flies that descend on the hot fish, the flies that prevent me from getting too close.
“Muzungu!! Muzungu!! Where are you going?” I don’t know. I love being here, even though I don’t belong. I love the excitement of the market, overstimulated by people and things I don’t know. What is that green bar? What is that huge green gourd? It’s a green pumpkin. I ask questions and try to understand. I feel like I’ve been here before. This town is so familiar to me- not a dreamy familiar like Swakopmund, but I recognize the tall trees that look like leaves taped on a rocketship, the main street, dirt pathways, the local market, vendors selling fried dough. It’s not until someone calls me muzungu that I recall being here, just not in Zambia, but in Moshi, Tanzania.
I spy a bucket full of what looks like large red raisins. What is this? I don’t understand. Do you want to try one? I put the small fruit in my mouth, following the example of the offerer, under the watchful eyes of the locals. I try to bite down and find the seed inside almost as big as the berry itself. The bite off what I can of the sweet chewy fruit (kind of like a goji berry with a seed) and a hand is held out for the seed in my mouth. The seed awkwardly comes out and goes into the outstretched hand, eyes smile at my curiousity. I have no clue what I just ate.
What is that? A sack full of small brown bugs catches my attention, but they can’t be bugs. Sure enough, fried caterpillars- two different kinds- light brown and dark brown. No, I do not want to try that. I finally navigate my way out of the market. I can’t stop smiling as I walk the dirt path back to town- past corn fields, shacks with corrugated tin roofs, the taxis who don’t understand why I’m walking, past furniture on the side of the road, lizards that dart up walls. I walk past kids that shout to me- “Muzungu! Where are you from?” I wave back and smile.