Saturday, September 15, 2012

Teach me kinyarwanda, teach me teach me kinyarwanda

I’ve been in Rwanda for a little more than 4 months (hard to believe!), and I feel like I need an external hard drive for my brain. At our Peace Corps language exam at the end of training, I scored into the intermediate mid category, but it feels like I still have so so so much to learn. Kinyarwanda is a bantu language, and it’s so different from any of the other languages I’ve studied (Spanish and French). So many of the words are very similar and are hard for me to remember. For example, “Umuryango” can mean family, organization, or door. “Ejo” can mean tomorrow, or yesterday. “Gusura” can mean to visit, or to fart (trust me, I’ve gotten the pronunciations wrong MANY times). Whereas in English, you change the endings of words to designate plural or singular, the beginnings of words change in Kinyarwanda. For example, “umuntu” means a person, but “abantu” means people.

An interesting thing about Kinyarwanda is they don’t really have adjectives and adverbs like in English. There’s about 15 or 20, total. And I find it really frustrating. For example, if someone calls me “umukobwa mwiza”, that can mean anything from “beautiful girl” to “smart girl” to “nice girl” because there aren’t separate adjectives for all of those things. 

Learning the time in kinyarwanda was SUPER confusing, because they count the hours starting at 6 am. So instead of the kinyarwanda word for "one o'clock" meaning what we think of as one o'clock, if you just translated it directly you would be saying 7 o'clock. Thus "two o'clock" in kinyarwanda is 8 am, etc. etc. Um, yeah. 

Another interesting thing is that there isn’t really a word for “please” in Kinyarwanda. I still think it sounds rude to just say, “I need bread” or “I want water”, but that’s just the way it’s done.

Because so many words start with the same letter (I, A, G, K and U) I’ve been depending a lot on little random word association to help me remember. Here are some of my favorite mnemonic devices that I use:

Nta kibazo/No problem: The word sounds like “nachibazo”, thus: Nachos? No problem!
Komera/Sorry: Komera sounds like “Comer” in Spanish, which means “to eat.” So I picture myself eating a lot of food and then apologizing for eating so much…
Umudozi/Tailor: It’s pronounced “umu-DOZE-ey”, so I think of Sleeping Beauty pricking her finger on the spindle.
Imbuto/Fruit: I think of Benazir Bhutto digging into a nice fruit basket.
Ikanya/Fork: I picture myself eating with a fork in Kenya. I’m just realizing now how many of my memory tricks revolve around food…
Ndahaze/ I’m full: I think of being part of some sick hazing ritual where I’m forced to eat lots of food. Like in Matilda, when Miss Trunchbowl forces Bruce Boggtrotter to eat a huge chocolate cake in front of the whole school. That actually sounds pretty good right now…
Birahagije/It is enough or it is finished: It’s pronounced “beer a hag eejay”, so I picture a really ugly looking woman at some kind of pub (like from Lord of the Rings) and drinking too much beer and then an old Gandalf looking bar owner ambling over and cutting her off. This one is actually really unnecessarily vivid…don’t ask.
Guhaha/to shop: I imagine being in one of those relationships you see in movies where the husband is some insanely rich and busy guy and the beautiful but psycho trophy wife (me, obviously) basically just spends his money all the time, buying multiple pairs of expensive shoes, laughing her head off while using his credit card. Mwahahahaha. This one might not make that much sense to you so we’ll move on to the next one.
Ndashonje/I’m hungry: It’s pronounced “nda SEAN jay”, so I picture some poor Irish lad named Sean starving during the Potato Famine. Depressing but true.
Umushyitsi/Guest: It’s pronounced “oomoo SHIT see”. So a shitty guest...

And there you have it, friends: my eloquent tips on learning the kinyarwanda language...

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