A few weeks ago we spent time with some missionary friends in another part of the country and got to talking about how their girls (elementary school age) have adjusted to living in a rural African setting. The father told me about some of the hardships of having the girls in school and their decision to homeschool them instead. They also shared about how the girls have a core group of friends that they click with, but occasionally, they still have some difficult moments when others tease them, or when adults say things about their appearance or accent. Later in the day we were walking through town when we happened upon a crowd of people that had gathered for a Chief’s inauguration. The mother prepared the girls that if we continued down that path we would be walking through the mass of people – some might say things or touch them. She asked them if that would be ok or if we should take another route. The girls thought a moment, and opted to skirt around the crowd. They just didn’t feel like hearing “hey you white girl!” that afternoon, and the mother affirmed that that was just ok.
I think I’ve been “sheltered” a bit from some of the challenges of raising a minority kid up to this point. Our community has doted on Bronwyn with royal affections. But our time with our friends made me start thinking of some potential hard places in the future. I’m fairly confident that as long as she stays within five kilometers of home, she’ll have no problem. But our shopping trips in town have potential for harm and I feel it’s my duty to protect her from that as much as I can. I don’t think it’s rational to try to avoid hard environments all together, and we’ll have to work with her on how to handle heckling once she’s old enough to process that. But in the mean time, I’ve started doing the best thing I know to do – raising up for her a host of advocates.
The “roughest” place to be a little white girl (here) has got to be UB market – the locale we frequent for spare parts, fish, chitenges and used clothes. I’ve started making friends with shop keepers, letting Bronwyn play with their babies and telling them as much of our story as possible so that we get separated out from the miners, the Peace Corps volunteers and the random foreigners who pass through and are prime targets for a cheap laugh.
I feel like I’ve had quite a bit of success – instead of walking down the isle looking for a pile of fish and hearing “Ba mizungu! Ba mizungu, nkopwe no mwana wenu!” (White lady, I’m going to marry your daughter.) Now I hear, “Bana Winnie, good morning, how is Winnie today?” And if someone who hasn’t had a proper introduction yet decides to be obnoxious, there is a group of people to say, “hey you, she’s not ‘mizungu’ she’s Bana Winnie and she lives in Fimpulu and she speaks Bemba so she can hear everything you are saying so don’t be a punk about it.”
And I appreciate it, because I don’t think most people actually want to be jerky. I just think foreigners in an otherwise homogenous area make easy targets for cheap laughs when life gets boring and there’s nothing else to spice it up. And by me clarifying that we are actually far more Zambian than most people realize, it just sort of removes that temptation to use us as fodder for the “I’m bored and want to get a laugh at your expense” category. I’m sure there will still be a few who eventually cause Bronwyn to ask, “Mom, what is UP with that guy?” And we’ll work through that when the time comes. But I hope that her advocates are so great in number and quality that, regardless of circumstance, her mind is set – Zambians are wonderful, worthy of friendship and respect, and in their presence I feel safe and loved.