Being a Muzungu (having a white skin) defines me as rich, or so the Rollex man tells me: “For us we know you are rich.”
Let’s talk English semantics here: when he says he knows I’m rich, he could also mean he believes I am rich.
Are school fees due? I don’t think so. Nonetheless, three incidents in 24 hours this week annoyed me – they’re nothing really, but when they come at you – one after the other – they can get you down.
Part One – the Muzungu and the Casino chips
Last Monday night Julia and I went to a local restaurant. It looked like a bit of a dive but we were starving. There were no other customers so we thought we might be lucky and get served quickly.
We went through the normal routine: “We are in a hurry, how long will it be?”
“It will be quick Madam” came the reply, “we have machines.”
Three quarters of an hour later, a bowl of vegetable dall and chips finally emerged (quite what those machines were, we will never know…)
When it came to paying the bill, a sultry girl (invisible until this point), hung around the table demanding attention. She presented us with a handwritten bill for two mango juices, chips and dall.
“8500 shillings for chips!” screamed Julia. “Let me see the menu.”
“You had chicken and chips” the girl said. “No we didn’t.” The remains of dall – and not chicken – were clearly there on the table in front of her.
There was some reluctant shuffling and the greasy, fingerprint-stained remains of a menu were handed to us.
“We’re not paying this bill – the menu says chips are only 3000 shillings.”
The girl picked the bill up from the table in her left hand – and with her right hand replaced it with another handwritten bill, identical except for the total.
“Why did you write two bills?” I confronted the girl. Her attempts to fleece us were so transparent, it’s laughable.
Part Two – the Muzungu and the gold-plated Rollex
The next morning in Entebbe, I pulled over at the side of the road for a quick breakfast before my meeting.
“How much is your Rollex please?”
“Only 2000 shillings.”
“I don’t pay that even in Kampala!” I retorted. (I pay maximum 1500). I was half asleep but the second blatant attempt to rip me off in less than 24 hours really got my goat.
Riled, I asked him “so you think all muzungus are rich?” He laughed “for us we know you are rich.”
How can I explain to him that the car he sees me drive was bought with a loan from my dad? Will he appreciate the fact I spent the first 2 1/2 years of my life in Uganda working as a volunteer? Will he respect the fact that I’ve been helping a Ugandan friend through university? What will he think of the fact I employ two people that I can’t really afford to employ simply because I like them and want to support them? These thoughts go through my head time and again – but there’s no point in saying anything, he wants his bit of me just like everyone else does. And really, what’s 500 shillings to me anyway?
[500 shillings is approx 12 British pence or 20 US cents].
Part Three – the Muzungu gets tanked up
I pulled over at the petrol station to buy fuel for the 84 km drive back to Kampala. The attendant greets me with a fabulous grin “Good morning Madam, how are you?”
Such a lovely greeting is the norm and I reply in kind.
I know the question is coming but I’ll have to disappoint him… “Fill her up Madam?” He beams.
“Just give me 30,000” the muzungu snaps back at him.
Some days Uganda, I am just not in the mood!
I chatted all this over with Simpson and he’s right – Ugandans get treated exactly the same way. People need money.
Just don’t expect me to tip you if you get caught trying to rip me off – and at least the man at the petrol station greeted me with a smile.
So how has your week been? Did you come out on top?
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