Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Are you getting with the culture?
Every now and then people ask me a question that really makes me stop and think. Today was one such day and the asker of this epic question ‘are you getting with the culture?’ was an old guy I often see on my way to or from work. He had me totally stumped. The whole rest of my walk home the question ‘are you getting with the culture?’ ‘are you getting with the culture?’ kept going round and round in my head.
In some ways I’m getting with the culture. The market now holds no fear at all and people now rarely crowd round me there. The little bits of Kinyarwanda I have learned come of my mouth more naturally and my vocabulary is expanding very slowly. I can get on and off of crowded buses with fewer bruises and getting on a moto feels as almost as natural as stepping into my car did before. If I wait somewhere for an hour I no longer regard it as a particularly long time and I’ve finally mastered the art of making vaguely decent chapattis. I have a load of Rwandese pop music downloaded onto my laptop, some of which I can even sing along to, and talking to my colleagues in the staffroom is much easier and we even share a few laughs (and they are not always laughing at me!).
But in some ways I am not getting with the culture. For starters I still walk too fast. This has been pointed out to me many many times over the past six months. But I just can’t change. I can’t walk at 0.000001 miles per hour, well unless I’ve just gotten bandy legs from being on a moto for a very long time. Then I can hardly walk at all....I have tried consciously telling myself , ‘you’re walking too fast, you’re walking too fast’ but the truth of the matter is that I like to walk fast. It feels purposeful and burns fat, which I guess is not much of a concern for people here. In fact to be told ‘you are fat’ is supposed to be a compliment! The other thing I find hard is that I still think I only understand about 20% of what is happening. The location of bus parks and post offices change for no reason to a new place which no one can describe, people start shouting at each other in the street for reasons I can’t understand and buses don’t run at times where there were many the day before.
But overall I think I am ‘getting with the culture’ in my own way. I can cope with the randomness of life in Rwanda, enjoy the good times and laugh at the bad times....well when a period of a few days have passed!