Mzungo/mulungo is the native word for “white person” or “foreigner” used in much of southern Africa. It is an endless source of annoyance to PCVs. People tend to shout the word at us as we pass, as though sounding an alarm (which is true in the case of many small children, who either run away or simply start to cry at the sight of us) or making absolutely certain we’re aware that we stick out.
However, the fact is undeniable: mzungos are uncommon - and PCVs can become rather territorial about their sites. So we, like our Mozambican counterparts, often want to know exactly what foreigners are doing on our turf. Thus, I’ve created the guide below to identify the random white people that cross our paths. Simply answer the series of yes/no question and follow the course to determine just what kind of mzungo you’re dealing with, without even having to speak to them (aside from shouting “mzungo!” as they pass, of course).
1. Is the mzungo…
a. Female (Yes = proceed to Question 2)
b. Male (Yes = proceed to Question 6)
c. Mixed group (Yes = proceed to Question 11)
2. Is there more than one? (Y = Q3; N = Q5)
3. Are they all wearing full length skirts? (Y = Q4; N = Q5)
4. Are they all over fifty? (Y = missionaries from Tennessee; N = Jehovah’s Witness)
5. Is she wearing Chaco/Keens/other sporty outdoor sandal? (Y = Peace Corps Volunteer; N = expat)
6. Is he wearing a button-up shirt? (Y = Q7; N = Q9)
7. Is he wearing a tie? (Y = Jehovah’s Witness; N = Q8)
8. Does he have rugby-player shoulders, a beer belly, buzz cut, unnecessarily short khaki shorts and a neutral-colored button-up shirt? (Y = South African on holiday; N = Q9)
9. Is he heatedly spewing rapid-fire Portuguese? (Y = Portuguese businessman; N = expat)
10. Is he wearing chacos? (Y = Peace Corps Volunteer; N = expat)
11. Are the women in the group wearing long skirts? (Y = Q12; N = Q13)
12. Are the men in the group wearing ties? (Y = Jehovah’s Witness; N = other missionaries)
13. Are they wearing Chaco/Keens/other sporty outdoor sandal? (Y = Q14; N = Q15)
14. Do they emit a curious odor? (Y = backpacking hippies; N = Peace Corps Volunteers)
15. Are they heatedly spewing rapid-fire Portuguese? (Y = Portuguese businessmen; N = expats)
Whatever the reason for the mzungo’s presence in PCV territory, he/she should be approached with caution and only after consulting local store owners/other fofoqueiros for more information.