Kenyan pick-up lines

by Kasha Patel

I could only take about fifteen steps or so outside of the hotel before I heard “Mzungu! How are you!” Mzungu is the African term for “white person.” I put an exclamation point instead of question mark at the end of “How are you” because the phrase was always yelled at you. It was hardly ever in a question tone. Sometimes the children would rhythmically chant “Mzungu! How are you! Mzungu! How are you!” and jump up and down as if they were performing some kind of dance. It was actually quite catchy, and I found myself humming the tune to myself hours later.

For the first couple of days, I walked around town with my white friends so I expected to hear mzungu. I figured when I would walk around without any white people, I would blend in and maybe even pass as a native. After all, I do not have white skin. I am Indian, and Kenya is full of Indians. (My Kenyan friend Faith told me that Indians in Kenya often own many businesses. They have the reputation of being very hard-working and are serious, especially about work.) Yet, somehow the Kenyans knew that I was a foreigner. I can’t imagine how they figured that out. I mean, I was only wearing an Aeropostale visor, Nike tennis shoes, carrying a dSLR camera, and speaking very poor Luo (the native dialect) in an American accent. As a result, I often heard mzungu directed towards me when I was roaming around town with only my Kenyan friend Faith.

I also heard some interesting pick-up lines. Compared to other countries that I’ve traveled to, I thought Kenyan men had much funnier pick-up lines. They were always done in a joking way, as I never felt like I was actually in danger. Unlike other experiences, I never heard them comment on female body parts or say anything graphic. (Perhaps I was in a friendlier area or Faith did not translate those pick-up lines to me). Here are some of the entertaining pick-up lines that I heard around western Kenya near Bondo:

While walking on the street with Faith, a man says to Faith in Luo, “Tell your beautiful friend I said hello.”

Another man says to Faith in Luo, “Where are you going? Tell your friend I will carry her.”

While on a matatu (minivan used for public transportation), one of the conductors (person who collects the fare) jokingly said something to the effect of “You can pay with her.” Another man on the matatu said, “She won’t go to the farm with you.” The other men laughed and made some more farm jokes to the conductor.

While walking on the street with some of my white friends, one man said, “Let’s make an Obama.” (Obama= mixed/interracial child)

While walking on the street with Faith, a man comes up to me, shakes my hand, and looks like he wants to tell me something. Suddenly, a bunch of men standing nearby are yelling at him and laughing. They were yelling something to effect of “Don’t touch him!” and told him “Stop touching her! You’re dirtying her! Can’t you see she’s white?”