Azungu in Malawi

After a week in Malawi, I want to share a bit of my experience as an azungu (white person) in the beautiful country I will be working this summer. Since I have only been here for a very short time, these are brief snapshots of my experiences so far. For those “How I Met Your Mother” fans, I will be writing this in the style of Barney’s ‘Bro on the Go’ except as ‘Azungu in Malawi.’

Azungu in the Market

An azungu in the market is like a celebrity in a mall. One person sees you, calls out “Azungu” and you are immediately surrounded. I imagine it is like being a celebrity with 8 stylists crowded around you all hoping you will try on the design they have picked out for you…except instead of being in a shiny white room you are in a crowded market style with many eager Malawian ‘stylists’ all hoping you will choose the clothing they have chosen.

The other thing about an azungu in the market is that you need to watch out for ‘azungu prices’ bartering is key, and never be afraid to walk away if you cannot get a fair price (Note on this: I am still learning what a fair price is for many things)

Azungu cooking Nsima

Impossible (without serious help and copious arm strength)

Azungu on the Bus

Like everyone else on a cramped bus or minibus, the azungu is ignored until 1) there is a stop and food being sold through the windows of the bus is offered to you MANY times over, 2) something happens to give away your naiveté, i.e. trying to get all of your bags off of the bus while dodging other passengers…stares invariably ensue

Azungu on a Run

The azungu on a run is a rare creature to many Malawians; in Lilongwe, the capital I barely caused a stir whereas in Dedza I was a main attraction. In my experience there are four main reactions to this foreign behaviour

  1. Kids run towards you happily yelling “azungu, azungu” and waving excitedly. A mere wave will send them into a fit of laughter and screaming, some even fall over in excitement.
  2. Women taking hardly any notice or seeming incredulous that you would be doing such a thing as running.
  3. Friendly people calling out “How are you” or something in Chichewa that I cannot yet understand
  4. Teenage boys, goaded by their friends, running with you for a couple of steps. These seemingly aggressive responses are usually easily passed off with a quick greeting which makes them lose their nerve.

Azungu in a Restaurant

The azungu foolishly believes that a Malawian menu is a list of the meals that a restaurant is prepared to cook. What the azungu does not know is that the Malawian menu is a list of what the restaurant might LIKE to cook or claims to cook to attract customers. The azungu must always ask what is being served that day before trying to order.

Another important note for the azungu at a restaurant: in Malawian, there is no tipping at restaurants.

Azungu Fetching Water

So far so good, no huge spills but I still take the smaller of the two buckets and am convinced that African women have necks made of iron.

Azungu in the Village

In the village an azungu is very far removed from their native environment. Be prepared to be confused, amazed, and laughed out many times throughout the day.


7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Tom Hansen on May 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Not a how I met your mother fan, but I love this post. Seems like you are pretty popular over there. Especially with the little boys.
    Excited to hear more.


  2. Posted by David McColl on June 1, 2010 at 3:17 am

    I may try my hand at this nsima. I found out Wikipedia has an article all about it:


  3. Posted by Carissa Graydon on June 1, 2010 at 6:20 am

    It seems like you are having am amazing and fascinating time, I am really happy for you. It sounds like quite an adventure though. It’s crazy how different our lives are right now – polar opposites! Can’t wait to keep reading more.
    Love you,



  4. Dave, do it do it do it! Make sure you have a tasty relish, I like anything with groundnuts and tomatoes. You are guaranteed to be full for hours…but will need some serious arm strength!

    Carissa, tell me more about your polar opposite summer :):):):)


  5. Posted by Carlie on June 3, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    OMG! i cant believe what I am reading, this is soo so incredible! hey, how are you figuring out appropriate prices?? asking around? hows your host family?



  6. Posted by Anne on June 4, 2010 at 10:41 am

    I love this post, it’s hilarious. Things here are fairly similar, except the market spectacle doesn’t happen as much (thankfully). People even put it into English sometimes – “white lady! white lady!”

    I hope all is well in Malawi, I love getting your update emails, they’re so fun to read!



  7. Posted by David on August 11, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    A fascinating (and humorous!) post, and it tallies with my experience of rural Malawi, too.

    Just one thing — “Azungu” is plural! You yourself are “Mzungu” (singular). If there are two or more “Europeans” (or “whites”), then you both (or all) are “azungu”.

    FWIW! 😉


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