Celebrating East African Writing!
‘Akienda, njo utanipata hapa!’ a young man shouts at me as I drive past Mtwapa. My husband, Pete, is fast asleep on the passenger’s seat. I don’t bother to respond to that seemingly innocent request which is highly loaded for an African woman with a white man on the Kenyan coast. When we stop for a drink on a veranda of one of the hotels, traders dangle all manner of awkward things that mzungus should like at me. ‘Ni promote, wacha kuwa mgumu!’ the sellers say, agitated eyes fixed on me, lower lip pointing in Pete’s direction. The message being, if I am going to get money from that mzungu, I should spread it out to fellow citizens. The items on sale are often things I would never, even in a drunken state of magnanimity, buy. I am forced to have an even closer look as the items are thrust in my face. I shake my head and the traders’ stomp of cursing me.
The taunts have toned a notch lower now that I have a slightly more ‘mathe’ look, the effect of uncontrolled breeding. When we started dating ten years ago, the comments made were more caustic. ‘Mlete hapa, si wewe umekula yako!’ the hawkers would say if we dared walk the streets of Mombasa together. Si I had already been paid for my sexual services, so why was I still holding on to that white walking ATM? Eyes would glare at me as exorbitant prices were quoted for Pete and venom lashed out if I dared protest. I decided that if Pete did not mind being shafted, I would stay well out of the way and so we stopped shopping together.
In certain hotels, we are relegated to dark sections of the room that we soon worked out, were hived off for prostitutes and their clients. The sleaze had to be kept away from the regular respectable clientele. The waiters would never address me directly assuming that I would eat what was ordered for me. The bill would be placed as far from me as was possible. Perhaps they feared I would pocket the tip.
Despite my annoyance, its obvious where this attitude comes from. The coast is a popular haunt for sex tourists and it is highly likely that a black woman with a white man will be a commercial sex worker. It is such a lucrative deal that it is common to find retired commercial sex workers living entirely of a monthly stipend from their geriatric European lovers. Although I will not condemn prostitutes for what they do, (after all where would they be if all our brothers, fathers, uncles and granddads kept their goods in their pants?), I still hate to be thought of as one. It’s not exactly the career I dreamt of being associated with.
This attitude was easier to stomach from strangers and I found it hard to bear at work. When a good friend of mine started to work in the research institution I had been working in for a year, she was advised to stay away from a certain ‘malaya’ who masqueraded as a scientist. I was then studying for my PhD, the only African female PhD student at the time. There was only one way, she was told, I could have done it. I had slept with the white boss. There have since been close to twenty African female PhD students at the institute. The white boss must be very busy indeed…. the orgies!
My peers said I belonged to a group of African women who believe black men are not good enough. After watching all those soap opera’s on TV, I had swallowed from a tender age the stupid belief that white men are more romantic than ‘our’ men. Did I not know that all men are the same? Apparently I did not. More so, black women, I was told, never fall in love with a white man but with his pocket or perhaps the hope of a passport to a distant land. People I had thought were friends would tease me with stupid questions about the life I supposedly aspired to. ‘Do you go skinny dipping now? Do you kiss the dogs? When I bought my first car from my hard-earned savings, a simple Fiat-UNO, I was thought to have done well. At least I got something from the mzungu. In certain company, it was weird being with Pete. He was the white imperialist, come to steal not only our land but our women to. He represented something in our history that grated on some who strained to stamp their intellectual superiority at my bemused man. What a palaver!
My husband is accustomed to children shouting ‘Mzungu nipe peremende’, or when we are upcountry, a cheery chorus of ‘Haro mzungu, haro mzungu’. The children happily cheer when he waves back. However, when my son, who is five, is followed by shouts of ‘Mzungu Mzungu!’, he will often stop and say to the offending child, ‘My name is not mzungu, I am Tim!’. I think to myself ‘Good for you!’ Imagine walking with your children in a street in Europe and children start to shout ‘African, African!’ and the parents turn to see and add a few words here and there? You would probably want to say ‘Aiii yawa, there is more to my children than coming from Africa.’ And inwardly think ‘what racist brats!’ Well, what do you think mixed children in Kenya feel? Put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Racially harassed perhaps? That they don’t belong here, in a country that endlessly reminds anyone who would listen that ‘Obama, ni wetu’?
WaKenya, wa pwani hasa, not all Kenyan women marry mzungu’s for their money or a dislike of their kind. Hard as it may be to believe, when it comes to love, as some man we all belatedly love sung, ‘it don’t matter if they’re black or white’.
© Tabitha Mwangi 2009
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