The Kenyans, especially the children in the plateau, address us as ‘mzungu.’ This Swahili word literally means an ‘aimless wanderer,’ but is often used interchangeably with the term ‘white person’ or ‘foreigner.’ The word ‘mzungu’ is not derogatory. In fact, whenever I hear this word, it evokes a heart-warming scene in which I see the Kenyan children smiling, waving their hands, and yelling “Mzungu! Mzungu!” as we drive by them in our vans on our way to the plateau. It allows me to recall the unforgettable day in which I taught the Kenyan students and dispelled their false beliefs about the ‘wazungu’ (plural of mzungu).
On a cloudy evening, a group of us went to a local school to teach its students about reproductive health issues, primarily the effects of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and the means by which they can prevent and minimize their exposure to HIV. I was a bit anxious as we went on our way to the school. There I was, a mzungu from the States who did not experience any of their burden and pain, about to give a lecture about the devastating problem of HIV and AIDS, which they were already too familiar with. I feared that I would be met with some opposition that stemmed from the students’ resistance to authority, especially that of a mzungu.
The Kenyan students were brilliant and very knowledgeable with HIV and AIDS as I had anticipated. All of the male students of the school were present and answered my questions regarding the disease perfectly. Soon they began to bombard me with their own questions. “Does circumcision really reduce the risk of exposure to HIV during an intercourse?” “Why are the mothers infected with HIV advised to breastfeed their children if breast milk can transmit the virus?” Because most of the questions regarding the HIV were sex-related, the boys could not help but snicker and smile throughout the lecture. I was also smiling and was relieved to find the students amicable. The students treated me with great respect. As the time for our departure drew near, I picked one last student to answer his question.
And then slowly he asked, “Can a mzungu get HIV as well?”
All the snickers and smiles faded away immediately. All the eyes in the classroom were focused on me and everyone was waiting for my reply. My smile faded as well. So this was the problem. I had feared wrongly. The students did not hate the wazungu; it was the opposite. The students were led by their circumstances and others to believe that the wazungu were somehow superior, even genetically, to the Kenyans, and that we were impervious to the problems and the pain that they faced.
I drew in a deep sigh. I spoke clearly and slowly so that they could understand my words perfectly: “The only difference between you and me is the color of our skin due to melanin. We are the same underneath. We have the same lungs, the same blood, and the same heart. We are not so different, you and I.” The students seemed to understand what I had said and nodded with a smile.
I strive for the day when I won’t have to assert to my fellow Kenyan brothers and sisters that no race is superior to another. God has allowed us to be different, yet loves us equally. And so I work for the kingdom of God in which there is only harmony and embracing of the truth that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
“[W]e must never substitute a doctrine of Black supremacy for White supremacy. For the doctrine of Black supremacy is as dangerous as White supremacy. God is not interested merely in the freedom of black men and brown men and yellow men but God is interested in the freedom of the whole human race, the creation of a society where all men will live together as brothers.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
-Jae Kim- Baylor ’13