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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"I like Kinyarwanda"

There cannot be a better way for connecting to people than by learning their language. I’m saying this based on 9 months in Oman and a few days in Rwanda. It’s funny that language seems to divide people on one hand but bring us together on another. In Rwanda, I’ve found that people respond very well any time Kinyarwanda is used, especially anything more than “hello” or “thank you.” It might be the case that foreigners don’t often show the desire to learn the language – after all, the knowledge can’t really be transferred anywhere else and it’s very complicated. I figured, though, I might really benefit from it, living far away from the capital. During my stay at a hotel in Kigali, I saw an opportunity to test out a few Kinyarwanda phrases that I picked up during the first few days. There was a woman who works in the hotel’s restaurant and serves breakfast in the morning. Two days in a row, she sat down with me and gave me a lesson for maybe an hour. Learning the language is good for many reasons. First, it seems to make people respect you by demonstrating an interest in the culture you are visiting. Second, it is a survival mechanism and allows independence. Third and most importantly, it is really fun. Arabic and Kinyarwanda both include sounds that are pretty hard (I won’t say impossible) for a native English speaker to pronounce. In Oman and already in Rwanda, I’ve found that there is no better way to facilitate a friendship and feel genuinely comfortable with another person than to sit and make strange and repetitive noises together. In the case of the Rwandese woman at the hotel, it was the Kinyarwandan sound indicated by “nk” that really let us bond. In my opinion, this sound has nothing to do with an N or a K. It is one sound that comes from the throat and depending on the dialect might even have a hint of an H sound. 5 or 10 minutes spent trying to master this sound meant making a series of terrible guttural noises and looking to my mentor for approval while she repeated the sound for me and laughed. It was worth it – now I can confidently say, “Nkunda Ikinyarwanda!” (I like Kinyarwanda!).

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