Shannon Orcutt

Shannon Orcutt (Kinawataka Women’s Initiatives – KIWOI, Uganda): Prior to working with AP Shannon earned an MA from the Peace Operations Policy Program at George Mason University, where she worked as a Research Assistant at the Center for Global Studies. Shannon has also worked with United to End Genocide and the Save Darfur Coalition in the US. After her fellowship, Shannon wrote: “I learned so many new skills and it was really rewarding to see the work I was doing make a direct impact on the organization. It was very validating. I had the best experiences when I got to interact with the women and youth the organization worked with.

Being a Muzungu

04 Jul

When walking home or to work here in Uganda, I’m often followed by many kids like little shadows trailing my path. Sometimes they follow silently just a few paces off my own, growing in number as I walk. However, most of the time they are loud and lively yelling “MUZUNGU! MUZUNGU! HOW ARE YOOOOUUUUUUU!?!” This is a phrase that is shouted at me on a daily basis here in Uganda.

Muzungu is the word used for any non-African person and the children here love to remind me that I am in fact one constantly. While there are quite a few muzungus in Uganda, there are not many in the area where I work in Kinawataka slum, and no other female ones that I’ve seen.

The children’s jaws drop in awe of the pale blond beast.

I seem to have developed a following of Ugandan kids who know where I work and run past on their lunch breaks and when they get out of school to yell at me until I respond. A few particularly impatient ones even threw rocks at the building to get my attention.

Muzungu fan clubThe conversation usually goes like this:

“Hey muzungu! MUZUNGU! MUZUNNGGUUU!!!” – Children
“Hello” – Me
“Hahahahaha! Muzungu how are you?” – Children
“I am good. How are you?” – Me
In unison: “I am fine!” – Children

This conversation repeats itself multiple times a day. Most of the time (if I am lucky) they run away laughing. Other times they stand outside the door peering in at the newest attraction. This can last over an hour.

Several of the people in the Kinawataka slum are newcomers to Kampala and have spent much of their lives in the villages without ever seeing a muzungu before so I don’t usually mind too much. After all, kids are supposed to be curious and it can be kind of adorable. A few have rubbed my skin to see if it is like their own and are puzzled by the wavy mess of hair.

I do sort of miss the anonymity of blending in. I get away with nothing. People I have never met approach me and tell me they know where I work or where I live. As a de facto representative of the muzungu clan, it is good motivation to always make a positive impression.

Posted By Shannon Orcutt

Posted Jul 4th, 2014


  • Kathryn Dutile (Uganda)

    July 7, 2014


    So true!! We have a school next to our office and I think I have the same conversation as you everyday! The especially brave children come and shake my hand.

  • Shannon Orcutt

    July 11, 2014


    Yep, I love to watch the reactions of the other kids when the brave ones approach. My favorite experience so far was when I was walking back home and heard several people rushing up from behind me. I was a little worried about what was coming but then a 7 year-old grabbed my hand with a big smile and we walked for awhile hand in hand 🙂

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