On being white in Zambia

I am in Livingstone, walking alone on the back way to the hostel where I am staying. This neighborhood is grittier than most of the other parts of Livingstone I’ve seen, and feels to me more like the rest of Zambia I have come to know.

I pass a man, and greet him, “Hello.”
“Hello. You are beautiful. Marry me.”
“No.” (Woe betide any American man who might ever wish to marry me. I have become incredibly blasé about turning down proposals.)
“You do not want?”
“Okay. Next time!”

I will admit that I could not hide a smile at that last — AFTER I’d walked past him and he could no longer see my face. And this is definitely the Best Marriage Proposal I Have Received, although competition is stiff from things like “I have always wanted to marry a white woman like yourself; is this possible?”

These interactions are common. And I’ve gotten off lightly; Alison stopped counting after she reached 100 marriage proposals sometime in February.

What does this have to do with race? This doesn’t happen to Zambian women. In fact, Zambian women may not believe me when I talk about marriage proposals. This is not the way things are done here.

I would say that about 80% of the proposals I’ve received have occurred within the first five minutes of meeting the man in question (all within the first half-hour). I’m sure this percentage is even higher for Alison. (Piece of advice for hypothetical suitors: even if you do fall madly in love with me after one glance across a crowded room, it might be a good idea to wait until you actually know me to pop the question.)

“Would you marry a Zambian?” is a question I get even more frequently, from both women and men. I think that the least flippant answer I ever gave was, “I wouldn’t want to live here for the rest of my life, and I would not feel comfortable demanding that someone else undertake a relocation of the same scale for me.” (Not to say that all the cultural difficulties — which compose the rest of my answer — aren’t serious, but they invariably become a joke. “Oh, but I would not polish his shoes or wash his pants! I would want him to cook and clean. He would be very unhappy, and my in-laws would hate me.”)

That’s not just because I would miss the biting cold of winter, the sharp smell and vibrant color of new-fallen leaves, the modest, homey flowers of early spring, cheese and tree nuts and ice cream, friends and family and places, and a decent internet connection, because I would. I’d miss them terribly. But more than that, it’s just too hard to be white in Zambia.

It’s true that I have gotten used; it’s not as hard now as it was when I came, and perhaps, if I stayed here another year, another two years, another ten, it would continue to get easier.

But the first thing anyone sees about me is the color of my skin. I could speak Tonga perfectly, I could learn to balance 20 liters on my head, I could make nshima and relish the equal of any woman in Zambia — but I would STILL be white, and that would still be my most identifying feature. I am not my gender. I am not my age. I am not my religion. I am not my job or my education or my friends or my accomplishments. I am a white person. Anything else I might do or be is added as an afterthought to this most basic state of my being.

If you are white in the United States, it is possible to never think about race. There are places where awareness of your race will be pushed into stark relief, but most white people can chose not to go there. Most white people do choose not to go there. Race is not our problem, because we aren’t aware of it. We have to learn to see it and its influences, and whenever we’re tired of dealing with it, we can go back inside our safe, comfortable, homogeneously white bubble, and it’s not on our radar anymore.

On the whole, this is not the experience of people of color in the United States. There are areas where this acts in reverse, but there are many fewer of them, and they are much smaller, and the chances are much higher that the people who inhabit them will have to leave these spaces and become aware of race. How do you describe a friend or colleague or acquaintance who is a person of color? Black/African American man. Asian woman. Race first, anything else after.

That is what it is like to be white in Zambia. I am a mukuwa (Tonga), or perhaps a muzungu (Nyanja and many other Bantu languages); musimbi is an afterthought, if at all. If someone needs to describe me beyond that, it’s always “The mukuwa who . . .” I can’t forget about race here. Even if I could, someone walking past me on the path would remind me. I see racial lines much more clearly than I ever did in the United States, even when I was one of only two white children in my class. “Why don’t you move in with Gemmeke” because you are white and she is white and white people huddle together? The little rectangle of Canada, like embassy immunity, enclosed by the pilot’s fence. The areas of Lusaka or Livingstone filled with white people. Namibia, full of white people, all moving in neatly prescribed circles, seeming to interact with black Namibians only in carefully defined points of contact: at the craft market, or when talking to the househelp.

I get marriage proposals at a rate worthy of a celebrity. Children run out of their houses to shout “How are you?” and are not content until I have responded to each individually. People on the street call me “mukuwa” as if it were my name. People — colleagues, strangers — reach out to touch or finger-comb my hair. Street vendors materialize at my elbow: “Buy narchis, very nice, very sweet, you don’t want? They are good, very sweet, only ten pin, you can try one, buy narchis!” “Face cloth, talk time, Rub-On Vics, ma sweeties, I give you good price, madam! You don’t want to buy? Give me something, Madam. What will you give me? Give me five pin.” Drunk men sit down next to me to start long, rambling conversations. Children walk past a hundred Zambians to beg from me — adults do it, too, only the quantities are bigger. People may try to charge me more, especially in Lusaka, because of the color of my skin. Toddlers cry when I approach. Alison was subjected to a screaming diatribe after nearly being run over by a truck (while standing on the sidewalk).

It’s not all bad. I would even say that it’s mostly positive (aside from the endless, endless begging). I am courted for my custom on the minibus (the conductor will greet me as I step off the inter-town bus, and insist on carrying my bags to his vehicle), though I pay the same fare as any Zambian. People break into delighted laughter at an attempt to speak Tonga, or engage in any other culturally appropriate behavior. Complete strangers ask to have a picture taken with me. Before I came here, I had never in my life — never expected that I would — caused a room of a thousand women to scream with delight by climbing up on a stage to dance. Positive or not, it can be exhausting. Sometimes I just want to be a person, not a white person. I don’t know how to respond when people want to give me special treatment because of my race. Can I eat in the main food line instead of the VIP room, or is that refusing hospitality? And I like sitting in the front seat of the minibus (reserved for the most important people on the minibus); there’s more leg room, and you’re not as squished.

It’s as if cultural rules don’t apply to me. Zambians ask friends for money, rather than begging from strangers. Zambians men don’t propose marriage to women they’ve never met before. One of the Grade Twos I tutor played with my toes yesterday as I read them a story, because they’re white toes. It’s horribly rude not to greet someone when you enter a gathering, but when I was at a funeral, one woman came in and greeted every person in the room except for me — not to be rude, just because I was white. I can play pool, or wear trousers, or walk around with dusty, unpolished shoes, because I’m white. Sometimes I feel that being white means I’m not really a person.

I know that this experience has been good for me. It is valuable for me to be forced to live with knowledge of my race; for the rest of my life, I will have a much better understanding of the experience of visible minorities.

But no, I don’t want to live here.



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106 responses to “On being white in Zambia

  1. R&R

    That is fascinating. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It sounds like rather a surreal experience. If it’s uncomfortable to receive mostly positive attention due to race, how much worse would it be to be a minority who receives mostly negative attention because of their race? But positive or negative, it’s dehumanizing to be seen as just a color.

  2. Marit

    thanks for putting my thoughts into words 🙂

  3. zoe

    Well yes very difficult for someone white to live in zambia,
    I say so because am zambian. My lady you only visited
    Tongo land and you can not judge all zambians or should I
    You can judge 73 tribes because of one tribe. My dear lady
    The tribe you lived or stayed with is one of the most
    Difficult tribes in zambia, even i a true zambian child
    Can not manage to live with that tribe. Anyway thank you for
    For this wonderful piece of information. I can’t say it was
    Racism reading from this, well maybe its because
    You happen to find yourself in one of the most traditional
    Places, or maybe because you and the people of that place
    Did no what to expect from each other or how to treat yourselves.

    • Oh, no, I also spent time in Lusaka, and a bit near Ndola (though it it true, most of my time was spent in in Tongaland, but not uniformly in the village). This post reflects how I felt and how I was treated all over Zambia, and on the whole, the Tongas I met are wonderful, hospitable people.

      This post is not intended to be read as “Woe is me, my life in Zambia was so difficult,” nor as “Look how racist Zambians are;” it is an attempt to describe, as clearly as I can, how I experienced a particular cultural context (in both urban and rural areas), and to explain what this experience taught me about my own culture, and how race — how any visible difference outside what is considered “normal” — affects the lives of people in the United States and around the world.

      • simweemba hamaimbo jr

        I love the way you have put it. Its sad that an individual has issues with him/herself and wants every one to agree and share there view. So your view can not be reconciled her opinion . Thanxs for your open minided.

  4. mana

    Yes you are very true,life for a Muzungu or Mulungu in Africa is bit hilarious.They think each and every one is a Rockfeller.white woman and man is a weakness here.Some smart alec use it to the hilt to their benefit.But they are kind too,they will offer you a cassava root or a papaya or a piece of roasted chicken.In general Africans are of good nature.

  5. Zoe

    am a granddaughter to the great chitimukulu of the bemba kingdom, I’ve not lived very much with my people so i suppose i don’t know them that much but I’ve been studying them very much of late. you’re right Africans are of good nature. I just hope and pray the coming generation doesn’t abandon our culture.

  6. Mwanjawanthu

    Now that you are back home, can I marry you?

  7. Blue

    zambians are good natured generally. and the respond well to strange things. sometimes to wellcaming and to admiring. all in all, i say you had a good time in africa with all that special treatment compared to any time that any ordinary african can in any white mans country. i say be thankfull and quit complaining. i bet you would apreciate what you went through in zambia with you went to south africa instead. believe me.

    • Please don’t misinterpret me: I am NOT complaining. My experience in Zambia was valuable, in part because it did allow me a better understanding of what it feels like to be a racial minority — and I was a privileged minority. (I will say that being in a position of privilege can be just as uncomfortable as being in a position of oppression, albeit generally a purely mental and emotional discomfort, rather than a physical and emotional one.) I do appreciate what I went through in Zambia, in part BECAUSE it allows me to begin to understand the experience of a black African in a white man’s country — or the experience of an African-American.

      And yes, having spoken with my friends who were stationed in South Africa, I prefer, a thousand times over, lack of electricity and running water to the inability to go outside by myself for fear of being raped, which is one of the restrictions that some of them had to deal with.

  8. kapita

    Sorry for that, are you still in zambia??

  9. Dan

    Wow cool stuff I am a white American majoring in African studies so this is really helpful because I really want to go to all of southern Africa!

  10. eleanor

    well the thing is you have to also think of it – in terms of the image that the Zambian people have of a white person (historically). historically, we were slaves under colonization and were made to feel less than white people..so all these marriage proposals and identity by your skin colour is probably to them out of awe..e.g.’wow a white person- something great and beautiful’. because they we were brain washed to see like gods on earth. rightly put- in the states u don’t even see the difference between black and white. majority in Zambia still think we are small and nothing in comparison to the white man because we are still exploited. And just a note on Zambian people- we are friendly, caring and a happy people. we get onto public transport buses with strangers and can have a conversation rather than like in the states or on the london underground where people hardly even say a word to each other. as much as the marriage proposals were flattering- which i have no doubt were meant to be- they were probably just joke aswell to make you smile or laugh.because we like to see each other happy. am a black zambia and many times i have walked the streets of lusaka kamwala and different people, some even venders throw compliments such as ‘girl you are so so fine- i would marry you’ and you just smile and go about your day. and coming from a stranger its nice to be reminded. but since u are going back to the states – i hope even if u dont get as many as 10 proposals- that u meet the right guy and u are happy. as for us in Zambia- we will remain a beautiful people. I have been to the states many times- but like you- i don’t like it for many reasons more than one. the shopping is great!but beyond that nothing… I love my country too much!!

    • I do understand the history, but there’s a big difference between understanding it intellectually and going to the place where that history is a reality, rather than words on the page of a book.

      I would say that it’s not so much that Americans don’t see the difference between black and white — but that white Americans have the luxury, much of the time, of not needing to pay attention to it. I don’t think that’s true for African Americans. Also, I was visiting Spain during the time President Obama was elected the first time, and Spaniards would ask me, “Obama’s going to win, right?” I never knew how to answer that question, because I wanted him to win, but I wasn’t sure that he could, given the subtle interactions of race and politics in this country. And that wasn’t something that I could necessarily explain well in English, much less in Spanish. I was surprised and pleased when Obama did win.

      I doubt that I will get ten marriage proposals here, but thank you for your well-wishes! The same to you, if you have not already!

  11. nickiminajfans

    hey sorry 4 yr expirience but to tell u the truth a lot of Zambians luv white pipo…if their pipo that luv whites Zambians re 1 of those pipo….u knw where i cme from luanshya..evrybdy luvs a white person nd many members of my family owez says i’ll marry a white person..u don’t knw hw much Zambian’s loves u guys mayb becoz of yr expirience i hope u cme back to Zambia…say hi to evry1 smiling in the States.

    • No, I had a good experience, and on the whole, I was not treated badly because I am white. Quite the opposite, in fact. It still made me uncomfortable.

    • spot

      OMG!From the sublime to the ridiculous this Luanshya resident is talking rubbish.See people as people not what color he or she is.
      Colonial times are over wake up hellllloooo!

  12. nickiminajfans

    wow i get it u were treated nicely becoz u were white….for me i cant help it i love whites but we re all equal i love evry race..but i sought of like u…u rock

  13. nickiminajfans

    nd am not sayg i like becoz u re white….i jst like pipo like u

  14. A great post. I have lived 1,5 years in Kenya and traveled in Zambia as well and I can agree with every sentence.
    When I lived alone in a Kenyan village, then the biggest difficulty for me was not the climate, it was not living in the mudhut without electricity and water, it was not squeezing into a matatu with 25 people or even not following the local culture. The most difficult for me was definitely being white. And I remember when I tried to tell about it to my Kenyan friends, none of them understood at all what I am talking about. I can see the same here – Zambians do not understand the post. And it is really understandable that they do not understand.
    I remember a morning when I just did not have a strength to go to work – I had to walk 45 minutes on the village road to reach to my workplace and every time I just got so many comments and attention all the way – when I did not respond all of them, I was considered as arrogant. I just felt that I want to be invisible.

    • spot

      Duh ! do you expect you were living amongst uneducated village folk(what you folks call hicks)Come to Lusaka we got no time for self absorbed pre-madonas like u lot.

  15. Li

    I’m glad I came across this article. I’m a Zambian girl who has been treated the same way. I wouls still live there though.
    I didn’t grow up in Zambia so when I returned after 7 years, even though I’m black, I get treated like a white person. Even family treat me like that. They do it because they see me as superior to them. I have not implied this in any way. I just cannot speak the local languages properly. I don’t know any traditional dances, I can barely cook traditional food.
    Alot of people call me a coconut because of my accent. They don’t want to understand that I attended international schools and was hardly exposed to Zambian people. I didn’t choose to be like this. The thing is I understand why this happens. It’s because of their lack of understanding other races, other cultures. The tribe you were exposed to exaggerated this. Not all Zambians are prejudiced, especially in Lusaka.

    • That’s really interesting. I hadn’t thought how things might be for Zambians who have lived elsewhere.

      I don’t know that I would describe what I encountered as ‘prejudice,’ exactly, although I suppose it could be seen that way. What is true is that I saw it everywhere I went; my friend in Lusaka received many more marriage proposals than I did, and had her own struggles with race, although some of them were different.

      May I ask where you studied?

  16. Snake

    True……..its nice to learn abt different cultures i b going to Russia nd India to c hw pipo live…

  17. eddy

    I recently moved to Europe and its weird here, you can’t tell who’s racist or not. When I came I was under the notion that the west is over race to my surprise, majority of white people here are ignorant as camelshit excuse my arabic I felt a sense of pride when I was exposed to this… with Zambians everyone is civilized, over friendly and curious its normal. Here I was racial profiled I didn’t even know what was happening at the time, but not all white people are like this, I’m dating a Russian girl, a really kind girl, the old people tell us we look good together the younger think what are you doing his going to stub you, she tells me in russia(full of skin heads) black people are still exotic just like in zambia were white people are a few the curiosity exists in both countries. America is the mixing pot of the world so black people there won’t see your colour but in african countries the diversity isn’t there, its not just black zambians but arab zambians too, whilst at university I came across one girl that told me her brother looks ‘white’ with a sense of pride… so sad the effects of colonialism

    • I wouldn’t say that race isn’t a factor in America, too — but the majority of white people are much less aware of how it affects their lives.

      But anywhere you go, you’ll find a mixture of people and views and awareness levels, I think.

  18. I just had a quick question….

    I’m a white American guy talking to a woman in Zambia. She doesn’t want to leave Zambia and suggested that I live there.

    I’m thinking about making a visit, but may I ask if you feel that the experiences of a white male in Zambia might be somewhat different?

    Thanks for your post!

    • I expect that your experience would certainly be different. How different, I don’t know.

      (I should note that Zambia is a largish country, with many different tribal-lingual groups, and that any two tribes will vary in specifics, although there will also be similarities. The fact that you encountered this woman and can talk with her on any sort of regular basis suggests to me that she’s in a more urban environment than I was, which will also be different. The area I was in, for example, was somewhat notorious for people begging, although I also encountered it in the cities.)

      My experience was that white men were still somewhat pursued as attractive and desirable, but less likely to be the subject of gender-based catcalls on the street (people might shout “Muzungu (white person)” in surprise/greeting when they see you, but I doubt that anyone would yell, “My husband!” at you. On the other hand, since you’re not accustomed to that role, you may not have the defensive reactions that serve US women in Zambia (two of my white guy coworkers complained that Zambian women would call and text them all the time. My female coworker and I responded, “Why did you give them your phone number at all?!” because that’s something we’re already trained not to do).

      You will probably also experience white privilege differently than I did; in the US, you’re at the top of the privilege pyramid, which will probably affect how you perceive your treatment in Zambia, though whether it’s more noticeable or less noticeable or just different, I can’t say.

      As far as cultural roles, that of an (urban) Zambian man is probably easier to assume than that of a Zambian woman; a woman is expected to do all of the household tasks that people from the US generally don’t know how to do, whereas (my impression is that) men are mostly expected to be breadwinners, and perhaps to participate actively in the life of the church.

      For what it’s worth, the impression I got, when speaking to a number of Zambians and foreign expatriates, is that foreign man/Zambian woman relationships are generally easier than Zambian man/foreign woman relationships, because your default cultural norms would grant her more respect and freedom, whereas a foreign woman is more likely to find Zambian cultural expectations to be frustrating and demeaning. (But both can work, and both can be very challenging.)

      If you are in a position to do so, I would certainly recommend that you visit; even if all of your talk comes to nothing, I do not think that a visit to Zambia is a cultural or personal growth opportunity you will regret. Just be sure to give yourself enough time to get over jet lag and still be able to immerse yourself in Zambian life.

      • Thank you for the time taken to create such a detailed response! I should have clarified that she is in Livingstone, and it’s my understanding that this area has a large influx of tourists due to Victoria Falls.

        • Hm, yes. In some ways, Livingstone is one of the more metropolitan areas of Zambia (though I would barely call it a town, by US standards). A lot of foreign tourists go through, and Livingstone experiences both the good and the bad effects of that. The grocery stores have a lot of products you would find in the US, and there’s a pretty good pizza place that also serves real ice cream, and white people are a more normal part of the landscape — but the large quantity of tourists also contributes to some weird economic/social patterns.

          • They have a good pizza place there? Well that’s a good enough reason for me to move across the world to Zambia in itself! 😉

            Well since I’m in Iowa, I should be able to more easily get used to the weird social patterns. LOL

            Thanks again for the info.

  19. chocolateskin

    This made really interesting reading! Made me realise how some things we do may unintentionally make other people miserable. I believe the people you interacted with did not mean to make your life so miserable and if they had an idea what their actions were doing to you, they’d have apologised. I grew up in the village in Zambia and I remember running to the road and waving at mukuwas(mostly catholic or CMML missionaries on their way to set up a mobile medical clinic or something) if one happened to drive past when we were children. It was born out of ignorance. Just seeing someone who looks so different from what I was used to see was so fascinating! I remember seating with my friends and imagining what kind of life a mukuwa led! Does a mukuwa eat nshima? Can a mukuwa dance? It was curiosity really.

    Then in africa, there is this notion that anyone coming from elsewhere, far far away lands, is more knowledgeable and better off than us. I have travelled around africa and I too get questions like, is Zambia nicer than here? And ofcourse people are a little more tolerant with me ie they don’t expect me to know and do what women in their culture can do. I am “the Zambian lady” and not a person anymore. But having an open mind and open heart…and opening up has helped. I have had to explain that we have trees and rivers and roads and all that in Zambia and that we eat nshima which is similar to their pap or ugali or whatever. Some people go ahead to “invite” themselves to come along with me.

    Those of you blaming this on a particular tribe, I really think you are not getting it. I am not Tonga but I think its unfair to say the things you have said about Tongas here! How tribal can you get?

    Finally I think getting into another culture is always not a smooth thing. Firstly the person who gets into a new culture starts by looking at that culture through the eyes and values of the culture they are coming from. The people receiving a person from another culture may also not know how to handle that person. Two books I read way back have been really helpful. “Dancing with The Wolves” and “Thriving in Another Culture”

    Hope you come to Zambia again and hopefully this time…you enjoy every bit of it and change your mind about living in Zambia for a longer period and maybe, marrying a Zambian lol.

    • I wouldn’t say that the way people treated me made me miserable — more often just aware. Sometimes even bemused. But other than that, yes, a lot of this connects directly to what I experienced in Zambia.

      • mweene

        Thank you for sharing your experiences in the Zambian community. I have personally always wondered how you felt towards the attention you get on the streets of our beautiful country. Thank you for visiting Zambia! I know we can be a bit over excited when we see white people on the street but its done in good faith. I also sometimes get overcharged by the taxi drivers simply because I am black and my father could be a chief in africa who owns a gold mine! Im currently studying in Russia, been there for a few good years now and I can actually relate to some of the things you have mentioned except for my case its been mostly negative (I think I should write a book about my full experiences there!). I also never understood what race really meant till the day I stepped out of my motherland Zambia and went to Europe. I am a person who loves to be ‘invisible’ and just get ‘ lost in the crowd’ but for some countries where you represent the minority group, this is far from a dream. Some people don’t mind the attention, some love it and others even take hold of it and use it to their advantage. I think yes, for a fact, we are people of different colour and where its unusual, its hard not to notice but it depends on how you treat these people, how you respect them and their culture. Learning other cultures has been a great and eye opening experience for me and has made me value my culture and heritage. I sometimes even wish certain other european cultures could learn something from the Zambian culture on hospitality!

  20. utopia

    squirel- any society with people of different social clases’-rich or poor;uneducated in this case would always look up to the person they percieve as richer than them for favour and handouts etc.as was clearly the case with u.you were living in an area filled with people earning a dollar a day..were the only way to meet ends is to hustle.ofcourse they recgnised u as a foreigner and thought wel she obviously has more money than me so why not bug her til she buys somethin.its just instinct from their part. happens to all regardles of race-the trigger is being in a place with people less fortunate than u. happens to me all the time wen I visit townships or walk in town.they call me boss boss-shud I render this as segregation too or just locals trying to describe me the best way they can but with a dose of respect and a hope that we spare some change. yes zambia has a problem with poverty;streetkids;street vendors and all -and they are the ones who beg!zambians like all other people earnin decent wages wouldnt beg from a stranger unles they were stranded at midnight and had lost their wallet.we are proud people. ive been in europe and just returned to zambia after 7years and know what..its the same there..white bums;gypsies homeless and streetkids would beg for money too.they are far less than here ofcourse but my point is its not really about colour;its money they want. the world is far diverse than just usa or africa and their are many livin in adverse poverty-both white and black!being white here- uld expect mor attention obviously cos uld be easier to spot at a marketplace but all in all all who are percieved to be well off are targetted. as for the men wanting to marry u..yea its cos ur white.theres some imaginary belief amongst most that it is prestigious in a way to be married to a white girl wel wel all black men and most white women are curios about interracial sex. im actually dating my white college sweetheart but thats besides the point. the zambian women mostly want the white men because they would like to migrate to europe with him or just live a rich life as most are investors etc..again-survival instinct at play and nothin entirly racialy motivated. yes the zambians are particularly too kind to white folks sometimes but gues thats not a bad thing if only they dont idolize them and apply th same measure to your own zambians too.hospitality plays a lil role here too but if we all loved one another imagine what the world would be like. I suppose u were a volunteer here right? well then I invite u to come and spend some time amongst us-the “elite” in so u can view life here from a diff perspective) #internets gon fibre but generally stil sucks in most places##Rip Nelson mandela

    • I’m not trying to judge, here, just saying what I experienced. One of the things that I found really interesting is that whiteness overpowers other indicators of wealth — I could walk down the street in a worn-out skirt, an old t-shirt, and dusty sandals, and beggars would come to ask me for money, ignoring well-dressed, prosperous-looking Zambians in western suits or fancy chitenge.

      • BlackandBeautiful

        well as a zambian black woman ive experienced the same treatment so its not about the colour of your skin. I come from a privileged background and speak a bit differently from most zambians, but on the streets be it rural or urban i am treated more or less the same as you. I think you experienced some sort of paranoia. If you think getting marriage proposals, being begged by street vendors and what you consider being treated differently is racist I guess you are completly bonkers!!!!

        • I can’t speak to your experience, but I experienced being treated differently from my black Zambian friends. The other white women I knew had similar experiences to mine. None of the Zambian men I knew would have thought twice about giving their phone number to a pretty girl, but two of the men on my program were very careful not to, after the first few they shared their numbers with called them all the time and would not stop. I never saw a Zambian woman come up to a strange Zambian man in the marketplace and tell him that he should leave his wife and marry her instead — but this happened to a white couple I knew while I was shopping with them.

          I won’t say that Zambian women are never the target of street harassment, but I never saw Zambian women harassed on the same level as myself and other white women, and I was aware of being harassed in areas where Zambian women told me harassment didn’t happen, because “village men aren’t like that.” But that’s what I experienced.

          You’ll notice that I didn’t use the words “racist” or “racism” in my original post, and that was deliberate. Those are very loaded words, and I’m not sure that I’m really comfortable applying them to my experience. But what is racism if not treating people differently because of the color of their skin or their perceived racial heritage?

    • snake

      RIP Madiba our hero!!!!!

  21. Interesting experience……..Mostly Brits and American testify to this, i wonder why its a little different for Scandinavians and Eastern European groupings

    • Actually, this is also consistent with the experiences of German, Dutch, and . . . I think Bulgarian women I talked to. In fact, one of the Dutch women (young, thin, and attractive) received significantly more marriage proposals than I did, despite only staying in Zambia for about two months.

      Are you sure that only British and American women experience this, or is it just that you’ve only heard British and American women talk about these experiences?

  22. In Zambia anybody with light skin even native light skin Zambians experience everything you mentioned (include the marriage ‘proposals’) it’s just something that goes wayback.. The sad fact is that people from outside Zambia cannot understand and inturn it just seems like Zambians are “racist”

  23. TheRebuker

    That was quit a paragraph judging from one part of the country. You should try traveling to lusaka kabwe copperbelt and try to interact with the educated people I mean that’s insane how someone would ask you to marry them at the first site. I am prolly hearing of such a situation for the first time and it embarrassing how all those men could act that illiterate I mean who does that. Most men who’re interracial in my country judging from my research usually act and treat the woman the same regardless of race. But because of different cultures men can change treatment a little I know most men in Zambia like white women but because they are the ones that are most seen but to be honest most are interracial(like all races besides black) that is the naked truth. So please research more.

    • I’m not just judging from Livingstone. I spent time in Lusaka, and also in the Copperbelt. In fact, as I noted in my post, my friend in Lusaka received many more marriage proposals than I did. That story was intended to be an example, illustrative of many interactions that I had, rather than an attempt to interpret Zambia through a single interaction. I know that I haven’t seen anything like all of Zambia, or a complete view of Zambia, but I lived there long enough that I had time to form my own opinions of how I was treated in Zambia, and part of that is that random strangers would walk up to me and ask me to marry them. My female Zambian friends did not experience this. I am not using this to say that Zambian men do not like Zambian women (the large number of married people in Zambia would certainly be a counterargument), merely to say that white women are treated differently than Zambian women. There were men who treated me the same, but they were rare; on the whole I felt that I was treated differently, whether or not a man proposed marriage to me.

  24. TheRebuker

    Yah but those were uneducated people who lack exposure and have heard stories about white people being people who drop into something very easily. I’ll tell you that most black girls give attitude when proposed to unlike white girls who are straight in what they do. I’ll tell you that it is easier to get a white women than I black women. So since the number of white women here is little and they have just been hearing about them being people who get along easily they think its that easy. And its not just about being black or white that happens to almost everyone who is not from here they would do the same to a black american if they new she’s american but those are the illiterate ones. They now america has a different culture but they get it all wrong. Almost everyone here want a wife from a different country its only easy to identify a white person than a black person they’ll be like she one of us.(Note most were uneducated) anyone who’s educated will first ask you out.

  25. Interesting article. As a Zambian i think this should be read by all zambians. When i visited a rural village in Japan I was somewhat treated like a celebrity due to my skin colour people wanting to tak pictures of me all the time and attempting to speak english random brave men asking for marriage. Although it was tiring and irritating at times. I would prefer being treated well than like garbage in another part of the world I have lived in because of my colour. So are you saying that every area and people groups living in Zambia are the same?? I know several mixed Zambian couples. zambian men and women married to foreigners and i dont know their personal experiences but some of them have chosen to live in zambia others abroad but visit zambia regularly. I must note that majority of the foreign men and women are not american but mostly european. However I do think all Zambians should read your article as those you came across were over excited and probably just wanted to show the love!
    I also went to an American military base i had 2 of your brothers black americans hollering at me and my sister who are black about meeting them up for a drink we politely declined with which the swore viciously calling us every name under the sun!! When I used words like thank you I was asked why i talk like that.This is probably how celebrities feel. Interesting article with good and bad points.
    I think I should also do an article on how I was bullied in the American school system as well. it only stopped when i was sent to a british boarding school

    • I’m not at all saying that all Zambians are the same — if you read this blog, you’ll find stories of Zambians who were my neighbors, my friends, my students, my teachers . . . but also of the men on the street who asked me to marry them. Of the many people I met, most of them did not ask me for money or marriage, but a lot did.

      As you point out, street harassment can be a problem in America, too. (Regarding questions of why you talk like that, I would point out that Zambian society tends to be somewhat more formal than American — though I say please and thank you and have never had anyone comment on it. But there are places where people aren’t taught that way, especially places where there are fewer respected adults leading the families and communities.)

      Bullying can be a problem, too, anywhere where people are perceived as different. Based on my experiences and those of my friends (in various countries), I think it changes more school by school than country by country. (But perhaps there are places I haven’t been where no one is bullied. I would like to think so.)

  26. Why didnt you just tell the people you are just like them no better or no worse?? One of my friends a white male went to an African country where he was literally treated like a god in the end he was offened and told them to stop he is not a god and if he gets cut he will bleed just like them simple. Anyway i am sorry if your experience was horrible but am sure it was much better than living in South Africa or Zimbabwe. Maybe try visiting Europe next time because if you visit a third world country ie India kenya you are going to be treated better

    • There are a lot of ways to answer this question, but I think that the simplest is: I got tired. There were days that someone told me they wanted a white woman as a wife, and I told him that no, he didn’t want me as a wife; I couldn’t cook nshima properly and wouldn’t wash his pants and that his mother would hate me because I wouldn’t kneel on the floor to show respect, or keep the house properly. But there were days that I just said “No,” and didn’t explain, because it was always the same conversation, and the man almost never believed me, and it seemed like it didn’t matter how many times I told someone, because some other day there would be another someone to tell. And sometimes I just didn’t have the energy. But even when I did, there was always someone I hadn’t talked to yet — and I bet that a lot of the men I talked to turned around and asked some other white woman to marry them, because hey, it’s worth asking, right?

      But that said, please don’t think that my experience was horrible. I told someone recently that living in Zambia was one of the most worthwhile things I have ever done, and I stand by that statement. I learned so much, and met many, many wonderful people.

      And yes, I’m glad that I didn’t live in South Africa, because while I’m sure that would have been worthwhile, too, when I talk to my friends who lived there, they talk about not being able to leave their houses or go anywhere alone. In Zambia, I experienced what it felt like to be a racial minority, yes, but a privileged one, and while that made me uncomfortable, discomfort is good for us sometimes. And beyond that, in Zambia I felt safe. Listening to the women who lived in South Africa, I realized how precious that was.

      I’ve been to Europe, actually. If you go far enough back on this blog, you’ll find entries from my four months in Spain. Those were educational, too, but in different ways than Zambia. It was easier in a lot of ways, and I’m sure that I had less difficulty adjusting to life in Zambia because I had the experience of living in Spain. (If I were choosing between living in Spain or Zambia, I don’t know which I’d choose. Spain would be easier in a lot of ways — but I was very lonely in Spain, and felt much more connected to people in Zambia.)

  27. ada

    As a zambian very interesting. Similar to a friend of mine originally from the Samoa a nIsland with darker skinned people groups. She was taught at a early age to marry a white man as they were bette people that the nativesr. Every now and then she holds her mixed children and white husband as a bagde of honour even though she is darkish she has european in her bloodline which she is extremely proud of. And thats just some peoples mentality their culture and tradition. She does not mean any harm that is just where she is at.
    Just like the Zambian you encountered did not mean to insult you or put you down. Thats the tradition. And better being treated like some type of star than a monster. But I found it informative of how Americans view the Zambian people which I will be forwarding to my zambian people, They need to stop thinking others are better than them. Especially those working with Americans they must know what the foreigners really think of us .

    • As you say, it’s where some people are at.

      But I would caution you, when sharing my perspectives with your people — remember that I’m just one person. If you talked to the other three young people I went to Zambia with, I’m sure that you would hear different perspectives and different stories, even though we shared a lot of the same experiences (either together, or similar experiences separately).

      If you really want to know what Americans and Europeans think of Zambians — I think the most common thread I’ve heard, talking to people before I went, and after I came home, and while I was there, is that Zambians are wonderful, welcoming, hospitable people. It’s a good place to be an outsider, because even if there are people hollering “muzungu” at you on the street, so many people will work to help you feel like you belong.

  28. Really enjoyed reading you article. I have recently moved to zambia and will be here for 3 months, maybe more if plans change but I can definitely relate to how you felt. I’ve lived in Africa all my life, (zimbabwe, South Africa and spent some time in botswana) and I assumed this would be a breeze but it’s been challenging so far as I experience a lot of what you have spoken about whereas in other countries I’ve lived you don’t come across this huge race awareness as much as you do here and I’m still adjusting 🙂 always good to see others have experienced similar and it’s not just me!

    • I’m glad you found it helpful!

      • spot

        Am Zambian & it upsets/amuses me to see my people loose the plot at the site of a white person.Zambians need to have more confidence & pride in themselves.Having lived abroad in Europe for a few months am 100 per cent not thrilled by white folks.
        My take Is that people in the western world live sad lonely lifes and eventually end up been tossed into Old pensioner homes by beloved family membres.
        Zambians continue to be welcoming to all what ever race or creed.

        • spot

          P.s welcoming from a distance.Lets maintain a respectable distance because other cultures dont belive in over familiarity & warmth.
          Dont inflate egos by proposing wili nili some of these folks back home are stranded unable get a date never mind a marriage proposal.

          • I think in part, it’s different cultural expectations. Most westerners don’t expect that someone would propose marriage before months (frequently years) of dating. But from what I saw, most Zambians don’t date — it’s all courtship (or the girlfriend in town). So it’s different ways of doing things.

            • spot

              I hear you but am Zambian,and I know loads of couples who dated for donkey years before contemplating marriage.
              Generally the folks in this country who have education or are pursuing education tend to plan for years ahead for such big commitments such as marriage.
              On the other hands those with little or no education tend to get married real quick,and at very short notice.
              Seems like you came into contact more with the latter grouping?

              • I would say that I came in contact with both, but the more educated Zambians I knew tended to be established couples who were already married and had been so far a while.

                • spot

                  Squirrel why magnify a small sample of uneducated people to be representative of all Zambians?
                  Its like me a Zambian meeting a couple of posh brits,and thereon assumimg all brits are posh.
                  Quite the contrary the brits are a mixed bunch from very prim and proper to hooligans.
                  Rather Squirrel write abt how access to education will free these poor people in places like Livingstone from begging.
                  For your information most upmarket hotels/backpackers in Livingstone are owned by white people.
                  Most Zambians who work for them are paid very little.

                  • Spot,

                    I lived in Zambia for a year, and I met a LOT of people. Compared to the overall population, I’ll agree that it’s a relatively small sample, but I think a representative one. And to be frank, most people in Zambia are uneducated. I’m not saying that that’s the way it should be, or that foreign exploitation in Zambia is how things should be — but the situation they create is how things are. I’m just saying it how I see it.

                    And if you read the other pages of this blog, you’ll see that I have written about things that I wish could change in Zambia, and about the potential I saw in Zambia. I’ll point out that I worked for an NGO — two NGOS, actually — that were actively trying to increase levels of education and do capacity building with people in Zambia.

                    • spot

                      Squirrel just seen this post.To much fuss is made in this country about opening new universities.
                      Our focus should be more on primary & secondary education.

        • Some westerners do. Some don’t. Like most things, it varies.

          My grandmother lives in a retirement community — she chose to move there after my grandfather died. It really was her choice; my mother offered that she could move in with us, and she would have been very welcome. But independence is a big thing in western culture, and my grandmother was not ready to give up living independently, even to live with her family. She’s also a foresighted woman, and I imagine that she felt that when she does need more daily assistance, it would be too much of a burden for my mother. My grandmother is really happy where she is: she’s busy, she’s making new friends, and still has an apartment of her own.

          On the other hand, my mother’s next-door neighbor did not put her father in an old folks’ home, even though he was increasingly senile and unmanageable. He would leave the house in the middle of winter without a coat, and at least once the police found him miles away, lost and unable to get home. His great-grandson lives there, and as the old man lost touch, he increasingly didn’t recognize the boy, and would rant about the “strange men” menacing his daughter. He fortified the house against some perceived threat, making homemade weapons and taping all the windows shut. We were worried that one day he would hurt the boy because he thought he was an intruder, but his daughter refused to put him in a home because “it would kill him.” My mother looked at how hard it was for the daughter and told me, “If I ever get like that, put me in an institution! Don’t try to do it all yourself.”

          What do Zambians do if the grandmothers and grandfathers become crazy as they grow old? Or are there few enough old people in Zambia that it hasn’t yet become a serious issue?

          • spot

            Ooops have to rewrite original posting didnt stick.
            Ahhhh Zambian old folk quite clever they tend to have many children in younger productive years.
            For instance I come from a family of 9 children.So between us chores will be divided when it comes to taking care of old folks.
            Sounds like the neighbor taking care of her father was not from a big family?
            In addition hired help for elder relatives easily available and not expensive as would be the case in the west.
            Perhaps with rapid development we are experiencing maybe one day those dreadful OPH will make sense in Africa?I certainly hope never ever!

            • See, in the US, having lots of children isn’t clever — it’s expensive!

              This neighbor has a few siblings, but even in larger families, not everyone will live nearby, and sometimes the siblings don’t get along well enough to help out.

            • spot

              Squirrel why magnify a small sample of uneducated people to be representative of all Zambians?
              Its like me a Zambian meeting a couple of posh brits,and thereon assumimg all brits are posh.
              Quite the contrary the brits are a mixed bunch from very prim and proper to hooligans.
              Rather Squirrel write abt how access to education will free these poor people in places like Livingstone from begging.
              For your information most upmarket hotels/backpackers in Livingstone are owned by white people.
              Most Zambians who work for them are paid very little.

          • spot

            By the way you write very well.
            Question -so one day when you eventually go “crazy” so as not to be a bother ,wld you rather your dumped at an old pensioners home?

            • Thank you.

              If I ever become so senile that I don’t recognize my family, or so physically disabled that I need assistance with basic daily tasks like eating, dressing, and moving around the house, I would prefer to be put in a home, yes. In fact, I would hope to be sufficiently alert and aware to make that decision myself. It’s really difficult for families to deal with situations like that long term — it was really hard for my family when my grandfather was dying, and we had several adults taking turns watching him, and also help from the community, and that was only for a few months. I wouldn’t want to put my family through something like that for years and years, not when there were other options available.
              (Especially not if I find somewhere that I like as much as my grandmother likes where she’s living! Over Christmas we had a conversation about how happy she is that she moved there.)

              As you mentioned, house help in the US is much more expensive than in Zambia, and even having someone to come in and clean for a few hours every week or two is not especially common. As I recall, in Zambia you can have a competent woman come in several days, maybe even a whole week, for the price of a bus ticket from Livingstone to Lusaka. In the US, you could pay someone for a few hours, not even half a day, for the price of a bus ticket from Boston to Philadelphia (a comparable distance). There are programs to help cover the cost of having people come help take care of the elderly, but they don’t cover everything, maybe just a few hours a week. If the person needs to be watched all the time, that’s a full-time job, or even several full-time jobs, if it’s overnight, too.

              I think it’s partly about expectations. When I get old, I don’t expect that a family member will not get a job so that they can take care of me instead — but no one expects that I will do that for my mother or grandmother or mother-in-law, either. And I consider that a very worthwhile tradeoff.

              • spot

                Chances are that the person attending to you/washing you when your -99 years old ,and checked into an OPH in your country will probably be a young African.
                Now an old fogey you will be probably going on and on abt how you once stayed in Zambia and the people are nice kind people.
                I once went for dinner in the uk with a zambian female friend.Sat next to us were to elderly ladies who kept asking us loads of questions we couldnt get a word edgeways.
                As we left my friend said to me poor them those are colonial types who would have never spoken to our types in their younger days hee hee!

                • Perhaps. But I hope to make enough money that I can afford to live in a retirement home where the workers get good wages and are in a situation where they could find another job if they didn’t like this one.

                  I’ll point out that the “good old days” of the British Empire were pretty restrictive for young women, too. (Granted, not nearly as restrictive as they were for the colonized.) But I would not have wanted to be a young woman then, not even a young white woman.

                  • spot

                    Our begging woes would end if we took back our mines,and told everybody to reply on a 51% local foreign 49% shareholding arrangements.
                    Right now we appear to beggars because of unfair development agreements.
                    So in summary if we appear to always be hard up its because we are not beneficiaries of our god given natural resources.
                    Google on you tube “why poverty Zambia “.
                    From,there you may start appreciate why people Begg in places like Zambia.

                    • I’m not arguing about the causes of poverty — though I think it’s more complicated than you’re stating, and would also add “corruption” to the list of problems, but the fact is that right now Zambia is poor, and right now people beg.

                  • spot

                    Corruption would end if all these foreign grants were cancelled.This country needs to be weaned off budgetary support.We need to generate our own resources.
                    Its like running a business that gets loans from a bank with out a credit application process.When wages are due to be paid you simply borrow.Organic generation of money goes out the window.
                    Moral of story we need to be left to fend for ourselves.initially it will be hard but quickly we would realize the benefits.
                    In a nutshell corruption is fuelled by all these grants.We need to be left alone to grow organically.Through this struggle only only then will every penny be counted.

                    • spot

                      Squirrel stop hiding & defend yourself hee hee!
                      On a personal level I have never begged and I work extremely hard to earn a living(5.30 a.m to 18.30 p.m) every day.I employ 90 hard working very decent honourable Zambians.
                      So when you describe us as beggars please understand why I am not amused.Yes without apology i know i sound like a broken record repeating myself emphasizing my point.
                      Your essay apart from been derogatory is extremly racist.

  29. spot

    Please Click on above link to watch intresting film then reasons why folks beg in places like Zambia will emerge.

    • spot

      Squirrel greetings!!Corruption will only be eradicated when we have to fend for ourselves.This over dependence is causing distortion and queering the pitch.
      We need to be left alone to fend for ourselves.

      • spot

        In summary Outflows from here greater then inflows.We need to stop this trend of manipulation so our people not left vulunerable & desparate.
        This culture of corruption/brown envelopes dosent originate from here.
        With the end of the kaunda era in 1991 and the introduction of democracy a band of thieves from all over the world decended upon Zambia to bribe officials and to grab our natural resources.
        Hence the reason we are poor we were robbed!

        • spot

          Squirrel given this history that is why i have taken exception to you labeling innocent Zambians as “beggers”.
          The whole precondition of no aid unless you privatise was an elaborate well thought out scam!

          • spot

            I strongly suggest you use your excellent writing skills to highlight to the world the manipulation of these nice people.
            Rather then ego tripping /premaddona essays about how many guys wanted to marry you boring!
            Good day

            • Spot,

              I wish that I could be as optimistic as you about solutions the problem of corruption.

              I am not, however, going to “defend myself,” as you say, because I am not making an argument. I have not said, “All Zambians are beggars;” I have not called you a beggar; I have not even said, “Most Zambians are beggars.” If you notice, the word “beggar” appears nowhere in my original post. I have used it exactly once in all the above comments, and that in an attempt to clarify to a commenter that I was describing what I saw, not trying to make a statement about Zambia as a whole.

              I will say that to you, too: I am not attempting to make statements about you, or Zambians in particular; I am making statements about my experience. You do not have to believe me, but the things I saw and the things I felt are not up for debate. This is a reflective essay, not a persuasive one. It is not something you can argue.

              This blog is not intended to be a vehicle for broad social change, taking on corporations and governments. It is not intended to stand in judgement — not of Zambians as a whole, and not of institutions in general or in particular. It is a travelogue, a lifestyle blog, showing a little glimpse into a world or situation that is different from that which many of my readers experience. It is intended to interest, to amuse, to educate, and, if I am lucky, to make people think about things or ask questions that would not have occurred to them otherwise.

              Why don’t I write about the exploiters, the people who profit off of the sweat of others? I didn’t see them. I didn’t meet them. No Zambian sat down with me and said, “Squirrel, this person has treated me wrongly.” That is not a story I saw, not a story I heard. I know that much of the wealth of Zambian copper goes to the pockets of foreign investors, but I never met a copper miner. I could have asked the Zambian women who worked at Jollyboys how much money they made in a week. Perhaps I should have. But I didn’t. Instead I enjoyed their showers and sat in their pool and enjoyed spending time with the friends I had not seen in weeks or months. So that story is not my story to tell.

              It seems like it may be your story to tell. I invite you to make your own blog and write the stories that you see going untold in this world.

              If you truly believe that this is prima donna story to brag about how many marriage proposals I have received, you have missed the point of this post entirely. (For the record, if there is a ‘point’ to this post, it is to say, “White people in the US have the privilege to not think about race. As a minority, one does not have this luxury, and it is a good experience to have.”)

              Spot, I have enjoyed our conversation, and am happy to continue in civil dialogue, even if there are points upon which we cannot agree. However, if you are going to insult me and misrepresent what I have said — or insist upon interpreting stories about things that happened as judgement and insults to yourself and other Zambians — I will delete your posts and will not reply to you.

              • spot

                Squirrel sorry I tend to get carried away especially after a mosi forgive me

                • spot

                  Squirrel at least credit should be given to me spot for making blog active ha.It was meant to be all tongue in cheek.
                  Mosi and blooging should be banned hear hear!

                  • spot

                    Squirrel I think you spent too much time over here you are like most inhabitant’s of my beautiful country totally intolerant of opposing views.
                    Am a big fan of the freedom of expression that the USA is known for.
                    My overly optimistic or unrealistic views should not be reasons for me to be unceremoniously booted & gagged off this blog.
                    In the name of freedom of expression Squirrel I humbly await your planned undemocratic punishment .
                    Good bye sob sob!

                    • See, that’s where you’re mistaken. I live in a democracy known for its freedom of expression, yes, and I value that, but nowhere is it written that I, as a private person, have to allow people to say whatever they want on my blog. The blog itself is more of a benevolent dictatorship than a democracy. I’m all for discussion, and for learning about how other people see the world, but if the comments become insulting to me or to others, or if commenters simply become too much work to deal with, the power of comment moderation ultimately resides with me.

                      As I said, I’ve enjoyed our discussions, and the views you’ve brought to this comment thread, and as long as Mosis and blogging don’t mix, I’m perfectly happy to have you visit. But I do have limits of what I am willing to deal with, and I will delete comments that cross those lines, whether I agree with the sentiments expressed or not.

  30. Mara

    I’m so glad I that I came across this… I have been reading a lot about Zambia, particularly this subject. I guess I want to mentally prepare myself for life in Zambia.

    I’m moving there this year to study in Lusaka, when I went to the University in December I experienced some of what you said but I wanted a clearer picture for when I move there for good.

    I am excited to go and I guess I will be fine with “sticking out like a sore thumb”… This was a great read, thanks so much!

    • I’m glad you found it helpful.

      If I have advice . . . I guess it would be to not go into the experience expecting to be treated as an outsider — from what I encountered, Zambians are overwhelmingly friendly and welcoming. I recommend jumping into as many experiences as come your way (with the exception of drinking mazoe, or anything other unboiled beverages made with water you don’t trust). Definitely don’t drink the Zambezi.

      Best of luck, and have a great time!

      • Mara

        The people I met at the university were great! They were all so friendly (especially the administration officers and professors). I have no doubt that this move will be life changing in so many ways! I am very excited to go there and particularly excited to meet new friends, learn new things and like you said, jumping in to as many experiences possible.

        I am from Africa, so the water thing is nothing new, my stomach is also African 😂 thanks though. I just initially thought that it would be an “easy” move but when I got there, I realised that the opposite was true. Moving to a new country is never easy in general I suppose, I just underestimated how much can change in a few hundred kilometres.

        It sure sounds like you learned a lot from the experience, as I hope to do also…

  31. Sandra

    Eesh, I am really sorry you feel that way dear sister. I really sympathize with you. You are fair skinned and am dark skinned but we are all children of one father God. I hope things change u see for others its ignorance and others its amazement. You are human and not anything else. I have had an opportunity to be friends, date white people and I don’t see the difference between us and them. Those who act like that towards u are not used to interracial mingling. I wish I could make u feel better my sister! I am Zambian, Bachelor Degree holder. Teacher just like u and hope one day we can be genuine friends.

  32. Chileshe

    Wow! found this as a very good read. Am a Zambian and I was looking for something nice to read right when I woke up.

    Pretty good description and actually funny.

  33. Bumblebee-licious

    I know some Zambians feel defensive about this article but as a Zambian woman, born and raised, this is so true!
    Lol people are curious about white people. Being white is often related to being rich and better off.
    Zambians do beg an awful lot. This can be very challenging for someone white because they really do get it worse.
    Most Zambians, sadly, suffer from “White Saviour Complex”. White is always better in Zambia. It doesn’t matter if you’re a broke, not-so-drop-dead-hot person, you’re white, and that’s all that matters.
    You may find yourself saying ” No” several times. Even being uncomfortable about making Zambian friends, because you know they are only paying attention to you because you’re white.
    They are curious if you really are as human as other Zambians.
    Why is your hair long and straight?
    Why do you speak funny?
    Why are your lips pink?
    You probably don’t have germs. You are so white!
    Will you take me to America?
    Why do you have eyes that look like that?

    That is basically what goes on in a Zambians’ mind. There’s no end to it.
    I am no better, just slightly less ignorant! lol. I grew up interacting with a few white people so my curiosity eventually died. I learned, they were human after all. Little by little, it was no longer just a “muzungu” speaking to me, but I actually started listening to what *John was saying. The muzungu slowly turned into John. And then John was just John.

    He was weird sometimes. Sometimes he would irritate me. He had odd but interesting jokes. He shivered around girls, and my bad habit of cracking my fingers finally got him too and he begun to crack his.

    White males often turn into manwhores with all the attention lol sorry, but its true. Zambian girls will hog a white male. They may not be as forward as Zambian men, but they are just as obsessive. Every white male who’s lived here long enough knows he can get any Zambian girl his heart desires. ANY. Even if he’s 79 and literally in the grave, he will get the hottest 22 year old Zambian girl.
    The girls assume he is rich and will take her to America of course. That he will be ten times more romantic than the Zambian males and will make love to her like in the movies and all that.
    Some girls will be genuine, some will not. Depends on where you meet them- sometimes.

    But basically, yeah.. You learn how to navigate around a that when you’re in Zambia. You live here long enough and you can actually make real friends and even meet a genuine life partner! But either way, you get an experience you never forget! 🙂

    • Yes, a lot of this is what I saw.

      I did find it funny that my white male friends didn’t know how to handle the attention. They complained to a (female) friend and I that Zambian girls kept calling and texting them all the time, hoping for a call back, and we just stared in surprise. “You gave them your number? We don’t give anyone our numbers!”
      But they hadn’t even thought of it as a potential problem.

  34. Matt

    Excellent article and replies.
    @Squirrel, you wrote this 6 years ago. Would anything have changed in Zambia on how they view white people? I mean, they have internet access and can thus access Western mass media, right? They can see/hear white people on YouTube etc. all the time. And recently they had a white interim prime minister in Guy Scott! Would they still be the same whenever they meet a white person?

    • Matt, I think you’re oversimplifying the situation. Zambians aren’t a homogeneous “they” who all have the same experiences and access. I knew people six years ago with access to Western media etc. and people who didn’t own a phone and barely spoke English. These differing life experiences were expressed in different reactions to foreigners.

      Nowadays there would be more people who have exposure to Western culture, but there are still a lot of people who don’t have access to technology, either because it’s expensive or because they’re too remote. I would guess that the vast majority of Zambians rarely see muzungus in person, and possibly not in video or pictures very often, either.

      I’m sure there are changes: more cell phones, and with them more exposure to the rest of the world. But in a large, unindustrialized country where upwards of 3/4ths of the population live on less than $2 a day, I don’t think that six years is enough time for a shift that major.

      (But I don’t know. I haven’t been back yet.)

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