Saturday, April 3, 2010


Mzuuunguuuuuuuu! Mzuuuunguuuuuu!  Mzuuunguuuuuu!

The high-pitched voices rang out like church bells, sometimes near-sounding but other times far-reaching and echoing through the neighborhood all the way up to my fourth-floor veranda.

Mzuuunguuuuuuu! Mzuuuunguuuuuu!

Damn, I thought, the local kids are doing it again, calling incessantly every time they see a mzungu (white person) leave their apartment and descend the outside stairs facing their houses on their way out to do whatever it is us mzungus do.  We always wave, but they keep calling, wanting some other response.  Maybe they want us to dance or something.

But it kept going.  The voices kept ringing...calling...

So I went out onto the veranda to see what was going on.  Below, two houses away down the narrow dirt road stretching into the neighborhood, a group of two or three kids were kneeling together in a circle on the edge of the road, heads lowered and hands cupped around their mouths as they called, mzuuuuuunguuuuuuu! mzuuuuuuunguuuuuuuuu!  Once in a while they would life their heads and I could see that they had been kneeling over a small sheet of plastic placed over a hole in the ground.  They would fiddle with the plastic, pick something up, occasionally chase something around on the ground.  The voices echoed from farther away - looking past the first group of children kneeling on the road, I saw various groups kneeling in dirt yards, on the sides of paths, on the road...all kneeling and calling...

What on earth?  What are they doing? Is it some kind of ritual the kids were play-acting?  I remember I did that with my friends when I was a little girl - we would perform mock sacrifices with grasshoppers, experimenting with "magic" and generally doing the silly things that children do to explore the supernatural and natural order of things.

My neighbor Leanne came up to the fourth floor to check on her laundry which was hanging to dry at the end of the veranda.  I asked her if she knew what they were doing. Trapping white ants, she told me. Trapping white ants.  Nothing supernatural.  Apparently, the high-pitched calls "disturbed" the ants and made them come up out of their holes, these big white ants, a delicacy in these parts.  I haven't tried them myself, but supposedly they are scrumptious.  Kind of like the fried or dried grasshoppers with chili and lime that you get in Mexico.  Yum.  Ugandans also eat grasshoppers as a delicacy, but it isn't the season right now.  But last December, when they were in season, all the kids were running around our building catching them to bring back for their families to enjoy.

I burst out laughing after Leanne revealed the mystery of the kneeling, shouting children.  Of course!  They are calling "muzunuuuuguuuuuu" because the ants are white! They are calling "whiiitteeeeyyy! whiiitteeeyyyy!" in the local language.  I explained my revelation to Leanne and we both got a good laugh out of it.  It's not just us! We aren't the only mzungus!  The ants get labelled too!  Funny enough, I think we both felt a kind of relief when we realized this.

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