27 January 2015 – Week 2
Learning a new language is an exciting intellectual and emotional process.
Not being able to understand what others are saying and not able to express your thoughts and needs in the local tongue can make one feel vulnerable and incompetent. This frustration can quickly turn into dependency on others (the locals who speak English or French). It’s more comforting and less stressful to hang out with local friends who speak English or French, but soon I realised that I need to face the challenge head-strong and accept the fact that “right now” I am not proficient in the local language but in due time, I will.
Uncomfortable as it may, I am more often than not in the position of listening and observing the context, surroundings, and people’s body language and mood. Surprisingly, by being attentive to the situation, I get pretty close to guessing the content of the conversation.
With the help of my local language teacher, Kalisa Jean-Paul, I am learning to read, write and speak in Kinyarwanda. Kinyarwanda is unique in a sense that it is used exclusively by people of Rwanda and Burundi (they call it Kirundi but it is almost the same as Kinyarwanda). Many words are influenced and borrowed from French and to some extent Swahili. For example, “ifurcheti” means fork (as “fourchette” in French); “igare” is bus terminal (as “gare” in French), etc. But some “pure” Kinyarwandan words and expressions offer a real taste of traditional wit and humour. Here are some examples.
This Scrabble-winning word reads in two parts – imbangukira (the one who wakes up) and gutebuka (quickly).
Kibonumwe (shooting star):
The literal meaning is “the one who saw”. When a group of friends walks at night, and one of them sees a shooting star and shouts ‘a shooting star!’ Others may follow suit, but the tail of a shooting star vanishes as quickly as the witness can scream it out loud. So the Rwandans call it, the one who saw.
Urare aharyana (May the best sleep where the bed bugs bite) and the reply;
Ahataryana harare umwanzi (The place where the bed bugs are not attacking is where enemy sleeps):
It is not a curse, but a good night greeting. The underlying logic (or wisdom?) is to wish for a good night sleep and an early rising wake-up (living and not dead) for the next day. Personally, I am not sure about this greeting, as I have previously suffered from bed bugs in Rwanda. I prefer to sleep like a (dead) log than being awake on a bed full of biting nightmares!