Our No-Name Street


Words to know:
1. Muzungo! – slang for white person
2. Umushwi – slang for little kid; literal meaning – baby chicken
3. Nitwa – “my name is…”
4. Chapati – pancake-like flatbread

As we settle into our new house in Kayonza, it’s time to familiarize ourself with the village… but it might be more important to have the village familiarize itself with us. I don’t want to be “Muzungo!” for the remainder of my time here. I wish to become another member of Kayonza, not just another faired-skin ex-pat roaming around.

I’ve started with the kids on our street – a street that has no name. If you ever find yourself in Kayonza, we are the house behind the market. There isn’t a specific way to identify our street. No house number. Just the house behind the market with the blue trim. Our “lease” agreement mentions the address as Kayonza. I guess that’s part of it!

Back to those kids I mentioned. There are about 10 or so umushwi that play on our street and we hear them just about any time of the day. Every time that we walk to, or leave, our house they are there to greet us. We see them peeking through the cracks of our gate. When we pass by, they give us high-fives, hugs, or speak to us in Kinyarwanda. I’ve even had to delay a child’s hello because she was aimlessly trying to cross the street in front of a truck. No matter what, it never fails to hear or see the umushwi. 

The first couple weeks living here, we heard “Muzungo!” and would see an extended elbow with a tiny hand waving slowly side to side as we walked by. I do understand why these kids are so surprised to see us. We don’t fit in on the surface. Sometimes I feel I don’t even fully fit in on the court, when I’m trying to use my limited Kinyarwanda vocabulary and hear some giggles coming from the lines… but it doesn’t stop me from trying. So I’m going to try to fit into Kayonza.

I didn’t enjoy my neighbors calling me “Muzungo!” day in and day out, so I began to introduce myself. I’d say to the kids on our street, “Nitwa Mosie.” I’d repeat my name until they got it down enough to it sounding about right. 

Now, when we get into eyesight, we hear, “Mosie! Mosie! Mosie!” The occasional “Leeeez” and Nieeeeck” are heard, but I’ve pushed the knowledge of my name a bit further than my partners. Even now, as I’m sitting at our kitchen table writing this blog, I hear an umushwi yell my name from outside the gates… they can’t even see us! I guess it goes to show how many times we hear our names in a day, and mine in particular.

As time goes on, more and more kids have run toward us with open arms. I like these kids. They make me feel more at home, like I’m expected to walk down our no-named street. Although I’ve almost familiarized our neighbors with myself, I still have lots of work cut out for me. Next up, I want to try the chapati and egg freshly made under the coal fire (on the corner of two no-named streets), and sip a banana beer with some fellow Kayonza members.