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#177 Rude-ass kids and the local version of honky

October 18, 2012

submitted by Greg Vaughan who blogs at Agrarian Ideas

“Ey, Yovo, Yovo! Cadeau, cadeau!”

Just stop it Bono. You’re making it harder for the rest of us.

This chorus has followed you everywhere you go for the past month.  It was cute for maybe two days, then it started seeming really rude.  Where the hell are these kids’ parents?  Haven’t they taught them it’s not polite to point and stare and yell at people?  I mean, if they did that to a local adult, these kids would get shushed and probably hit by a whole range of onlookers, relatives and non-relatives.  But then you start to see adults everywhere egging their kids on, whispering, “Blah blah blah blah yovo, blah blah blah blah cadeau.  Hahahaha.”  What the hell?  Don’t these people have any sense of decency?

By the end of your first month in-country you’ve assembled an entire philosophical discourse on the topic.  By yelling at foreigners, by designating them with a specific name different from the term for local people, these kids (and the adults who’ve taught them) are objectifying you.  They don’t consider you quite human.  And by asking constantly for money or gifts, which no logical human being would ever ask for from a complete stranger, they are perpetuating the dynamic of dependence on the rich world.  Don’t they see that the rich world has always taken more than it gives?

Initially you’re somewhat charitable in your assessments.  You figure that local missionary groups or passers-through must have established this dehumanizing dynamic by throwing candy out their Land Rover window, or corralling kids around them as if they were cattle to distribute donated notebooks or something.  But you’re not like that.  You’ve read about local culture enough to explain it to the locals.  You’re genuine, you’re in solidarity with them, with these little yelling bastards.

Before long, you realize that you, the expert visitor to this dusty village from the rich world, have become the oppressed.  These humble farmers and their impish children are oppressing you, dammit!  Now you know what minorities feel like back home.  Or, well, actually, like US presidential hopeful Mitt Romney maybe you’ve got it worse than minorities!  They don’t get pointed at and heckled on the streets, do they?

The more astute see the facial features inherited from your Chinese parents, and scream excitedly “An nyoung” (thanks to the local Korean textile factory for that), or the Korean features of your face and scream “Ni hao” (thanks for that to the Chinese infrastructure project employing only Chinese laborers).  Right neighborhood, but still offensive.  On the other hand, if you’re a generic white gringo who’s always fancied yourself exotic looking (though no one else has), you might initially relish the “Oye blanco, dame dinero” you get from kids who confuse you with the Chilean peacekeeper force stationed nearby.  But it too becomes tiresome after the first seven times.

By the second month of “Blan, blan” you start madly yelling back “Nwa, nwa!”, and by the third month you just scowl at the kids.  When you hear, “Howahyou givmeewandallah,” you chase them off and remark to any nearby adults that they should be ashamed to have local kids asking for money from strangers.  Don’t they feed their kids?

By the fourth month in-country you’ve taken it upon yourself to mount a public education campaign.  You authoritatively scold children when they point and giggle, “Mzungu!”, and you tell parents that in your culture it’s rude to talk that way to adults.  You help the kids realize the importance and autonomy of their own countrymen to feed and care for them.  Who buys them their clothes?  Who grows their food?  Who pays for their schooling?  All locals, not foreigners.  “You see kids, you need to realize that truly sustainable development must come from local actors, not from outsiders.”  You seem to be making headway, as now everyone in the village knows you, probably as, “That touchy bature who doesn’t like when you call her bature”.

Your fifth month is smooth sailing.  You’ve adjusted to local culture, you’re speaking the language well, and you feel you’ve closed somewhat that cultural gap between you and the locals.  You’ve accepted that you’ll never totally blend in or go native, but the present situation seems to be tenable.

One day you wake up and walk to the local schoolhouse for a scheduled meeting, and you are faced with a horrendous sight.  It’s short-sleeve-collared-shirt-and-slacks-wearing white people, with the whole village clustered around them, handing out Bibles and M&Ms.


By your sixth month you’ve accepted your fate, like the abused street dogs people delight in kicking around here.  You feebly ignore the kids that have once again begun to hound and heckle you as you shuffle, hunched, to your daily work routine.  You are nothing more than a yovo.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 18, 2012 10:31 am

    Of all the words I’ve heard for honky… Yovo was the best, Tubab a close second – Anasara is absolutely positively without a doubt the very worst. Mzungu sounds kind of Star-Trekkie. Yovo just sounds so funny. We had a “you had to be there” laugh our asses off time with the word Yovo… like, “I have to go see my Yovologist, I might need a yovotamy.” How as that beer? Yovolicious. Be careful, you’re becoming a Yovoholic. You had to be there…

  2. October 18, 2012 10:36 am

    I’ve been called so many different names over many years of travel I made a list of all of them, from Gringo to Yovo to Boule and beyond. Anyone have any contributions for my list? And whoever wrote this post has obviously spent some time in Benin/Togo if they’re getting called “Yovo.” The picture on that page is from Benin – you’ll recognize it, I’m sure.

    • Elyse permalink
      October 19, 2012 2:00 pm

      ‘Malae’ in East Timor and ‘Bideshi’ in Bangladesh :)

    • Sarah permalink
      October 20, 2012 3:29 am

      Videshi is f”oreigner” in India and then there is the slightly perjorative Ferengi (“british asshat colonial foreigner” — though also a little trekkie)

    • October 20, 2012 3:35 am

      Also “Guri” which can mean “white chick” in some punjabi indian village contexts. Or so I’m told, as all attempts to reclaim this language for the positive have been met with confusion.

      Also in the original post there’s also the rude boys who yell “hello, hello, hello” because they kind of know that we are programmed to acknowledge people who acknowledge us. Its a fun game. Can you get the videshi to look? If not, then they sometimes say actually rude things in Hindi/Mewari.

    • October 29, 2012 8:13 am

      Ajaneb is the Arabic word used in the West Bank, Gaza, and probably Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Your list should also include “Tubako”, the Pulaar version of Toubab (which I disagree is “totally inoffensive”, it is often used as a pejorative). A Wolof alternative to Toubab is xonk-nopp (pronounced “honka nope”), meaning red ears; it is highly offensive and may be the root for the word “honkey”.

      • October 29, 2012 11:04 am

        Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like: one-upping other expat aid workers’ knowledge of local languages… :)

  3. October 18, 2012 10:44 am

    Personal fave: “Lien xo! Lien xo! Where are you come?!?”

  4. Juan dela Cruz permalink
    October 19, 2012 3:29 pm

    In the Philippines, every foreigner is called “Hey Joe” since WW2, or even worse “Hey Jew” for the 4 decades since the song “Hey Jude” was played incessantly in all corners of the world. Or how about “kano” (americano) for any white person, regardless of nationality. The European tourists really loved that! True story: one visiting EAW asked me once: “I know they can tell I’m American, but how on earth do they know I’m Jewish??”

  5. October 21, 2012 1:41 pm

    Ghana: “Obruni! Obruni!”
    Haiti: “HEY YOU BLAN!”

  6. Andrea permalink
    October 22, 2012 8:00 am

    In PNG the kids like to yell “apinoon” (afternoon greeting) in the morning to see if they can get the white-Mari to yell back “apinoon” without thinking and so prove you don’t know what time it is. Much Hilarity.

  7. knave of poverty permalink
    November 7, 2012 2:01 pm

    Q: What do they call black american AID workers in Tanzania?

    A: Who knows? no one’s ever seen one!

    BTW…..of course thats not true, but just on this note, surely America/EU has enough genetic differences of EAW’s to fit every village. if mzungu AID workers went to places with muzungus (ex-soviet bloc etc.) and the mabrothers came to Kenya, this issue of the village imp’s oppression of the eaw would be solved! voila!

  8. cobalt permalink
    November 15, 2012 2:57 pm

    While working in rural Uganda, a friend provided this anecdote: Tired of constantly being called “mzungu,” she firmly told the kids in the village that “My name is ***** and I am a black American, not a mzungu!” The next day, all the kids changed their greetings to “Jambo, black American!”

  9. ben permalink
    December 7, 2012 8:57 am

    It’s a point of view, but seems really ethnocentric: it’s not a question of education : see for example the europeans kid yelling on US soldier for chocolate, coca-cola and chewing-gum after the WW2; cambodian kids running after you “one dollar, one dollar”…

    Iif u stay in a place, people know you and if you’re integrated, even as a yovo, in the neighborhood and in the town, u just become a member of the community, that’s it.
    I want to say also that we are yovo and we will die as yovo : it is a problem for a black people to be called black? Don’t think so. Its also one of the best way for us to feel the domination and the inequality of the situation between south and north; maybe that’s the main point making you feeling not so comfortable with that…

  10. January 10, 2013 12:06 pm

    “If you stay in one place people know you and you’re integrated…” but once you walk outside your neighborhood in the big city or visit any other part of the country, it’s back to yovo again.

  11. Hatesbeingcalledlocalversionofhonky permalink
    February 13, 2013 1:08 pm

    In Arusha, the fake rastas, touts, volunteer house “local liaisons”, and boring break dancers who troll expat clubs refer to white girls as “samaki” (fish/white meat).

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