On the Angst of Travelers

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Limbe, Malawi

I asked before I took this photograph. I asked in English, not Chichewa. They nodded. But in any language, that nod was reluctant. Let the Mzungu take the photograph. I smiled and said zikomo. Thank you.

They waited. I wondered how much the platter weighed. At the volunteer house, I had tried to balance a bucket of water on my head the way I’d seen women do. I got wet.

I fumbled—I had my fancy camera and I wanted the photograph just so. I wanted to improve my photography skills. They waited.

Hurry, hurry, I said to myself.

I slid the dial to autofocus.

The weight.

Mzungu someone behind me called. Foreigner. White Person. Rich person. Not said with anger. Not said with curiosity. Not even said with resignation. Said with a murmur. A fact.

Shame, shame, I felt. I snapped.