Monday, March 7, 2011

Parlez-vous Francais? Tuvugane iKinyarwanda?


Every morning as I arrive at work, I am greeted by my colleagues with this Kinyarwanda greeting. Kinyarwanda is the native dialect of Rwanda, as well as some parts of neighboring Uganda and Burundi. The other language most common to Rwanda is French, inherited from Belgium, which colonized Rwanda in the 19th century. However, over a year ago, the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, declared English as the new official language of Rwanda, leaving many Rwandans, scrambling to learn English. So as a native English speaker, I have offered my English language skills to my co-workers on the condition that they help me with my French and to a lesser degree,  Kinyarwanda.

I started learning French in the 7th grade and took it until freshmen year in High School. So with three years of French behind me and one short weekend trip to Paris after college, my French is tres mal (very bad). Whenever someone speaks to me in French, I try to warn them that Je parle en peu Francais (I speak a little French). Yet, I was amazed a few times this past week when my Franco-phonic colleagues were speaking at lunch and I understand a lot of what they were saying. I failed to contribute much to the conversation other than the occasional oui (yes) or Je ne sais pas (I don't know). Which makes me more determined than ever to re-learn French and converse adequately with my colleagues and the rest of Rwanda.

Kinyarwanda is a different story. I have found that it is a difficult language to learn, because my tongue absolutely refuses to form certain key words. Kinyarwanda is a tonal language which means words are not always pronounced as they are written. A perfect example is the word Rwanda, while we say Ra-wanda in America, most Rwandans say Gwanda because the Rw makes a Gw sound.  HUH? Yes, you read that right. Not only that, but most Rwandans can't pronounce the letters L or R, which makes for more interesting dialogue. Difficult but not impossible! I plan to learn at least some Kinyarwanda, since most of the people in the rural villages that comprise most of Rwanda, only speak this native dialect.

Here are a few Kinyarwanda words to know:

Mwaramutse:  Good Morning
Meze neza  : I'm fine
Bite? : What's up?
Yego: Yes
Oya: No
Uvuga Icyongereza? : Do you speak English?

In looking up some of these words in Kinyarwanda, I came across this interesting fact; Kinyarwanda is also the name of a new feature film produced by and starring Rwandans. It was chosen as the Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival for 2011. According to the movie's website, the movie tells the story of how Muslims and Christians helped each other during the 1994 genocide.

"At the time of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, the Mufti of Rwanda, the most respected Muslim leader in the country, issued a fatwa forbidding Muslims from participating in the killing of the Tutsi. As the country became a slaughterhouse, mosques became places of refuge where Muslims and Christians, Hutus and Tutsis came together to protect each other. KINYARWANDA is based on true accounts from survivors who took refuge at the Grand Mosque of Kigali and the madrassa of Nyanza. It recounts how the Imams opened the doors of the mosques to give refuge to the Tutsi and those Hutu who refused to participate in the killing."

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