Rwanda is in Africa. in Africa, or at least sub-Saharan Africa, most people are black. I trust these are simple enough statements.
The language of Rwanda is Kinyarwanda. The East African language is beautiful and full of sounds unfamiliar to our ears: "mwiliwe" and "ndakwashimeya," for example ("good afternoon," and "nice to meet you," respectively). Kinyarwanda has a beautiful word in it, a word all the more beautiful for its meaning and implications. The word is "mzingu" (pronounced "mi-zun-goo").
"Mzingu" best translates as "gringo." For English, the more direct translation is "foreigner," but it misses the curiosity, colloquial quality, and mild bemusement mixed with the slightest tint of disdain that I perceive in the term. There is also lost the sense of the universal, the usage of "mzingu" a label affixed to anybody who passes by and is clearly not from around these parts. To get the comparison right, I should imagine an American walking down a street in, say, Monterrey, and receiving loving cries and curious calls from children and adults alike of "gringo!" Maybe this happens just as or similar to how I imagine it.
Mzingu is not strictly a racial term, though white skin is the most obvious manifestation of mzingu-ness. I've been told that black Americans, for example, also draw mzingu cries. Asians of any sort get the mzingu chinai cry, in recognition of a notable Chinese presence here. But "mzingu" can be further found as a distinguishing factor in terms of way of life here in Kigali.
Man fourth from left? Mzingu total.
Take the typical "mzingu" male in Kigali (n.b. credit to fellow group member Ariana for first pointing out the following characteristics in the mzingu male. I have only developed and solidified her theory). He is white. He is of average or above-average height. Aged somewhere between 25 and 35. He dresses well, whether from a less formal foundation t-shirt, polo shirt, or argyle sweater with birkenstock wardrobe or a business outfit. His hair is often daintily ruffled, giving the impression of a low maintenance, never care attitude that undoubtedly takes a high degree of mainteance. The mzingu is handsome, whether in a stunning deep blue eyes with blessed reserve way or an awkward and lacksadaisical way.
There is also an aura that surrounds the mzingu. His deadpan smile and slack hands in his pockets say, "I don't care, I'm in Africa." I am in Africa, he says, and nothing can faze me. The cool pools of blue are filled with irony, the water of detachment, the sense that I am here to do well and live life to the fullest, so don't bother me with your limitations and your overly friendly nature and your foreign languages.
It should be said that the typical mzingu male represents a social class. He is generally American or British, from an upper middle class background or higher, and preppy. He appears to have eschewed his easy lifestyle of law school or corporate work to do good, good that involves travel and exoticisim. His investment in good comes with a mild, detached condescension, as if his upbringing cannot be forgotten; his high status and his good deeds elevate him higher, so that even those he helps can hardly be on a par with him, though the mzingu will never say this. Likely, the mzingu will continue his good work (and this description should not lead to the impression that the mzingu is not doing good deeds, or that he is even a bad guy: many mzingus are quite likable) for a few more years before wearing himself out and growing disillusioned, at which point he will retreat to his easy life, maintaining warm memories of his African days and a steady donation pattern (n.b. fellow group member Roei made this point).
Moving past the mzingu male ot the mzingu cultural life. Mzingu cultural life revolves around a narrow scene of nicer restaurants, white nightclubs, and creature cultural comforts. There is a hotly anticipated mzingu trivia night at an Italian restaurant on Monday nights. There is instant familiarity as the 200-300 members that make up the adult mzingu community (n.b. FGL Sara's estimate) know each other well, see each other almost nightly, and easily adjust to the permanent transience of the community.
The Mzingu Male observes nature.
A few Rwandans dot the community, and we would commit a grave error in calling the mzingu community exclusive. Certainly not de jure, and not de intention (n.b. I know). If it is de facto, it is mostly due to language, financial, and cultural considerations. When mzingus venture out to a Rwandan restaurant, for example, they are unable to beat the long wait for service, ruining any satisfaction that might come from the authenticity, quality, and price of the meal. Those Rwandans who are in the community often adopt mzingu manners of dress and cultural taste, though I imagine uneasily.
Mzingu communities are to be found globally. Kigali's may not be unique in ways beyond the language and obvious local peculiarities. One should not marvel at the size, considering the opposing forces of Rwanda's remoteness on one side and the need for development and post-genocide related support on the other.
A short clip of the Mzingu male's strange mating ritual.