Sunday 9th August 2012
Me, I’ll never learn…….
I was letting my hair down last Monday evening, chatting with a buddy, when this guy rumbas in – or waltz in or wheezes in, whatever you call it when a Congolese chap walks in with that musically distinctive gait. You know how it is. How most of us Rwandans think you can tell the nationality of a person simply by their looks or by the way they walk. And therefore assume they cannot understand your language. And then go ahead to talk about them. As if they are not there.
So, looking at the chap walking in, I turned to my friend and commented: “Very interesting this Rwanda. Today, a Munyarwanda cannot dare freely walk into a café in D.R. Congo, or Belgium for that matter, the way that man just walked in. I think we are a meek lot. And maybe that’s why our compatriots are being tortured in DRC and being clobbered or even knifed in some Belgian cities by Congolese nationals. Why don’t the two of us thump this fellow so he can take the massage home that we also can hurt people, when we feel a mind to it………?”
The look of horror on my friend’s face made me swallow my words immediately. Did he know him? I examined Friend’s face and then ventured: “So, what’s with the horrified look? Have I proposed we go to DRC and commit Genocide?” After giving me a searching look, Friend addressed me calmly: “Ingina, I thought you were more civilised than that. How can you suggest something so primitive? If all the Congolese nationals as individuals were to attack Rwandans, would it be something to emulate? Would you, for instance, be singing praises to those who stopped Genocide in Rwanda if they’d committed Genocide in turn?” I don’t want to talk about the shame I felt!
Anyway, an hour hadn’t elapsed when ‘Rumba’ wandered over to where we sat. He stretched out a hand to Friend and, in perfect Kinyarwanda, stated: “Imfura irigaragaza!” Which I can crudely translate as: “It shows when you are a man of honour!” The dig at me wasn’t lost on me, but I did not at all mind. I deserved worse, for assuming that he did not speak Kinyarwanda. But, especially, for thinking that Friend and I could gain anything by following examples of those who conduct themselves dishonourably.
I made apologies and paid ‘fines’ and made up with Rumba, after which we sat together. He was Congolese, all right, he explained. He spoke Kinyarwanda because he has lived here for three years. But he did not espouse what rogue Congolese elements were doing in DRC and Belgium. Said he: “If politicians have differences, why should I as an individual jump in the mêlée without knowing the cause of their differences? And why should I victimise unconcerned individuals? Only misguided fools join mobs that lynch innocent people. Everybody is a potential ally. Whatever problem we have, we can resolve it by working together. This applies to all of humanity. Imagine what it means for neighbours.”
Well, who’d have thought Rumba had more lessons on life and diplomatic relations than on music? We chatted for a while longer and when we parted, it was as friends. I realised, not for the first time, that I should not go by assumptions and should guard against letting loose what a friend one time called my “loose-cannon mouth”. Nicho, ask uncle, my ‘loose’ is still its old self!
Anyway, thinking over the trail of such blunders, I can’t imagine why I’ve never learnt from them. For instance, I remember in 1983 when my brother and I were in a Matatu – what here in Rwanda we call Twegerane or commuter minibus taxi……..
We were in Kenya then, where a tout – a person who calls out to passengers and takes transport fare – is known as Manamba. In Rwanda we call such a person Konvuwayeri, a corruption of the French word, ‘convoyeur’. However, where Manamba originated, search me. Something to do with ‘numbers’, as it involves Manamba counting coins? I say all this to emphasise the fact that no Rwandan in Kenya would ever have expected anybody in the Manamba community to speak Kinyarwanda. Such jobs, however lowly, cannot be accessed by a foreigner……….
In a Matatu in Kenya then. When Manamba delayed with my balance on our fare, I loudly commented to my brother: “Aka gashenzi ntikenda kunyibira amafaranga?” Now, I don’t want you to catch me repeating such despicable insult, so I’ll not translate. Suffice it to say that it referred to a deprived person who wanted to steal my ‘fortune’. Imagine my utter shock when Manamba calmly responded in perfect Kinyarwanda, and I translate: “Mzee, I’m sorry if you felt I’d ill designs on your fortune. It’s my fault. But if you could only be a bit patient, I’m almost getting enough to make your change. Ever so sorry, sir.”
It transpired that Manamba was Mkamba and his parents had worked for colonialists in Toro District, Uganda. This was near a refugee camp where, later after colonialism, Manamba grew up. He grew up playing with Rwandan refugee kids.
I still wish the earth could open and swallow me, whenever I remember the incident!
But these incidents were only two of many.
Me, I’ll never learn……….