"Mzungu means someone who meanders aimlessly in Swahili," says my Zimbabwean driver Causemore Dzvene in Mozambique.
“At first it was used to describe colonial explorers. Now it just means any white person.” It is not the first time I have been charged with aimless meandering.
I am exploring the Mozambican coastal village of Arimba as I wait for a boat to take me out to the Quirimbas archipelago. Rapidly overcoming any initial shyness, some of the village's children soon have me surrounded. Foreigners are clearly a rarity around here.
“Hello, hello mzungu!” they scream, before tripping off down sandy alleyways or posing jauntily for photos. One girl upturns a metal bowl, wedges it on her head, and becomes queen of the crowd for five minutes.
Arimba is a simple place where chickens and goats scratch in the sand between huts made of coral and palm fronds. Hundreds of tiny iridescent fish and octopus lie drying on racks, filling the air with an odor so pungent it overwhelms the senses.
A trio of middle-aged women in capulanas – the Mozambican word for sarongs – sashays past, balancing huge bundles of grass on their heads. “It’s for roofing,” shouts Dzvene as he dashes off for water and, I suspect, a surreptitious cigarette.
Beside one of the huts a makeshift stall offers passers-by a selection of unripe tomatoes, giant hands of finger-sized green bananas, and some desiccated corncobs.
Two young girls lean against the stall, their faces caked in white musiro paste – the local sunblock. Beneath colorful headscarves their hazel eyes shine brightly in a pair of spectral masks.
A group of boys lead me down to the beach, performing extravagant somersaults on the baking sand. Others hold up a succession of beautiful, conch-like shells for inspection.
For a magical half hour I am the center of everyone’s attention, as we communicate with a comic combination of hand signals and facial expressions. I finally drag myself away, trailed Pied Piper-like by kids clutching bunches of tiny dried fish.