MARCH NEWS FROM CYANGUGU, RWANDA: Gutembera
Learning any new language is difficult, and with few parallels to English, I find Kinyarwanda particularly challenging. The language is fluid, and often one person will tell me a word means something only to have someone else correct or change that meaning down the line. I’ve perfected the “say-something- in-Kinyarwanda-and-then-look-confused” pattern of letting those around me know that I am not confident in almost anything I say. As my Kinyarwanda teacher, Alexiane, says, “Ah, this language, it all depends.” Despite its challenges, I am always surrounded by it and always learning. One Sunday, Pastor Godwin and I were walking home from church. It was a bit after noon and the sun was beating down on us as we climbed hill after hill after hill to get home. After one particularly steep stretch, where I managed to ascend faster than Godwin (a personal triumph), he remarked that now I am Rwandan because my legs are strong. I told him, “Yego, na nkunda gutembera.” Yes, and I like to walk. Godwin was quick to correct me. We are not “gutembera” we are “kugenda,” or ‘to go.’ I paused for clarification. I’d always thought gutembera meant to walk, and isn’t that what we were doing? It turns out that gutembera means to walk without purpose, to walk aimlessly and without a destination. Kugenda is to go somewhere specific—in our case, home for lunch. I’m now well over halfway through my YAGM year, and I’ve realized my life here in Rwanda is one long stretch of ‘gutembera.’ Not that I’m aimless or without purpose, but that there is no set destination. There is no place I need to be or things I should be doing. Sometimes ‘gutembera’ is making a blanket fort with my three year old host sister. Sometimes ‘gutembera’ is welcoming new community members who visit our church. Sometimes ‘gutembera’ is feeling homesick and eating an entire tube of Pringles by myself. It doesn’t matter, it’s all just a part of the experience. There’s only a few short months separating me and my return home to America. In my remaining moments in Rwanda, I look forward to continuing my year of wandering and exploration. I look forward to the silly moments shared with my students learning English. I look forward to picking Reiny up from school every day and practicing her new English vocabulary over dinner. I look forward to time shared with new friends from all over the world. I look forward, I ‘gutembera’ forward.