Black Mzungu (Osborne)

The Black Mzungu 
Alexandria K. Osborne, 2015
Niyah Publishing
222 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780982221570

When Alexandria "Nur" Osborne applied for a short fellowship in Tanzania, she never imagined that 6 months would turn into a lifetime; and that the bush of East Africa would teach her about love, identity, and courage.

The Black Mzungu is the vivid, candid account of how Nur, an African American Muslim expat, and Saidi, her Tanzanian husband whom she met during the fellowship, breathe life into a beautiful 92 acre homestead vacated four decades earlier by Saidi's family.

Living there on the coastal southern region of Lindi, Tanzania, Nur's perceptions of how things "ought" to be are often challenged. From the dangerous natural wildlife to locals who view them as outsiders, she and Saidi must learn to navigate both natural and man-made obstacles. Still, through personal triumphs, they forge a way to give back to the land they now call home.

Mzungu is derived from the Swahili word "kizunguzungu," which means dizzy. When Europeans came to East Africa they were always getting lost and wandered in circles. Indigenous people gave them the name "mzungu" because they wandered in circles to the point of making someone dizzy.

Mzungu has evolved to mean the "wanderer."  Now it is used to mean someone of European descent. However, it is also commonly used to refer to any non-Swahili speaking foreigner. As an adjective it is used to mean a certain lifestyle (e.g., that mzungu house or "do not charge me a mzungu price").

Recently I have been feeling more like a real mzungu; that is, a wanderer. As friends and family from the life I had known for 5 decades move, change jobs, or even die, I wonder "where is home?" As an African-American residing in sub-Sahara Africa I had resisted the term mzungu, even sometimes feeling insulted. Now I realize I am mzungu, the WANDERER, looking for a place to call home. (From the author.)

Author Bio
Where—New York, New York, USA
Education—B.S., Pratt Institute; MBA, Western Michigan University; PhD, Walden University
Currently—LIndi, Tanzania

Alexandria Osborne was born in 1956 in Harlem, New York, and graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. After earning a B.S. in Chemistry from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, Alex accepted a position at a global pharmaceutical company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Michigan brought about many life changes including marriage to a Libyan American and converting to Islam. It’s also the place Alex raised her daughter, Zubayda with whom she would often travel to Libya. Finding it difficult to say Alex, her in-laws in Libya gave her the name Nur, a name she adopted as her own. It was the beginning of a dynamic, cross-cultural life.

In 2005, Nur earned a MBA in Management from Western Michigan University and later began her studies for a PhD in Management with a specialty in Leadership and Organization Change.

In 2009, she made her first visit to sub-Sahara Africa to begin a six-month fellowship for an international NGO in Tanzania. That same year, her research study conducted at Tripoli Medical Center in Libya was approved, earning her a PhD from Walden University.
During her fellowship, she met her current husband, Saidi, and returned to his homeland in the coastal southern region of Lindi, Tanzania. In 2013, she founded the Lindi Islamic Foundation of Tanzania–LIFT (

She now lives in Tanzania with her husband, their chickens and other farm animals where she enjoys starting off each morning with a good strong cup of Tanzanian coffee. (From the author.)

Visit the author's website.
Follow Alexandria on Facebook.

Book Reviews
Charming, funny, heart-warming and interesting. This book is a very enjoyable read!
Karen Wentland (Ohio, USA)

A reminder of the luxuries of first world living through an open and honest telling of leaving home, and the familiar, to start a new life halfway across the world, definitely worth reading.
Leanna Abdelmaged (Abu Dhabi, UAE)

Fresh voice, engaging subject, arresting realities.
Mary Ann Mitchell (Michigan, USA)

I really enjoyed reading The Black Mzungu; it was very interesting to see this part of Africa through the eyes of an American expat. There is rich detail about the people, animals and surroundings which is fascinating. Osborne is not shy in sharing her experiences: good, bad, ugly and beautiful.
Barb VanEseltine (Michigan, USA)

Discussion Questions
1. What type of events in someone’s life might make someone move to another part of the world?

2. What factors would determine the level of acceptance of someone who lives among people from a different culture? What should someone do to gain acceptance?

3. What risks did the author consider when she decided where she would reside?

4. What burden do African Americans carry that make some consider a connection to a continent they never visited Should they?

5. What common bond is more important in forming friendships: religion, color, language, socio-economic, nationality?

6. What skills are needed to navigate a new environment?

7. What comforts could you sacrifice to make a new life? And, what would you need to replace those comforts?

8. Trust is an important factor in forming relationships. Who betrayed the author’s trust? How can someone gain your trust in a new environment? Is it the same factors in the West and developing world?

9. Do you think the author will live out her life in her new home? If not, what would cause her to return back to the States permanently?

10. What void did the foundation fill?

11. Was the change the author made in her life revolutionary or evolutionary? Why?

12. What compromises, if any, did the author make in her own values?

13. What are the possible repercussions of reporting an illegal activity that seems systemic and accepted by society?

14. What boundaries would you set with you neighbors? When do you give and when do you decline? Are you more apt to give if someone asks?

15. Retirement is a major life event. How different do you think the author’s life would be if she retired in the States instead of Africa?

16. Which institution or sector of society has the biggest impact on the lives of people?

17. Africa is rich in resources. Why has its wealth not improved the lives of the masses? What changes, if any, need to be made for the people of southeast Tanzania to benefit from the discovery of natural gas?

18. Do non-profit organizations and international aid help or hinder development?

19. How do you think the people of the author’s village felt when she moved next door?

20. When is wildlife something to be marveled? And, when is it something to be feared? What measures would you put in place to live among the wildlife?
(Questions courtesy of the author.)

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