By Aaron Aroriza, Uganda:
A few years ago I lived next door to a young Rwandese girl. She was the independent kind of young working lady, an embodiment of feminine beauty. She always wore those mini-skirts our MPs are trying to ban and frankly, I had no problem at all with the sight: Which makes me wonder what our dozing MPs' are always dreaming about in their parliamentary naps. How mini-skirts could be giving them nightmares in their short parliamentary siestas is a mystery especially considering that statehouse supplementary budgets and all the corruption scandals never give these dream-hardy MPs the slightest of discomforts as they slumber through parliamentary sessions.
So as I traversed the neighboring land of a thousand hills recently, I couldn't help noticing what the people there have done with Kigali in just a period of nineteen years: Not that you would fail to notice what my people back home have done with Kampala in our twenty seven yellow years. But whereas you would marvel at one, you would be filled with pity for the other.
Pity is what I felt for myself one time when I was still living next door to that curvaceous Rwandese independent lady. She couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak French. She spoke Kinyarwanda and it was still French to me. But whenever I winked, she smiled and whenever I waved she waved back. Such was the only kind of conversation we had whenever we momentarily bumped into each other. And it kept us good neighbors for a longtime.
But a wink and a wave can only get you so far. And you can't wink your way into someone's life or rather as in this case, wink away your language troubles. So one cold rainy evening as I stood at a stage waiting for a taxi and shivering away, Miss Rwanda spotted me in her car and reversed to my rescue. With a somewhat cheeky sweet smile on her face, she said a few words in what might have either been Kinyarwanda or French. My ears were too cold to discern the two and my heart was pumping too fast but I figured she was offering me a hitchhike and quickly replied, “oh yeah, oh yeah”. But the smile on her face suddenly faded into scorn and she sped off just before I took the first step. In the days that followed, we consistently broke the second of God's two greatest commandments and it took me a few more months to notice that a new neighbor had moved in.
I never figured out what I did wrong until recently when I was in Kigali for a wedding. I still haven't figured out why our brothers and sisters in the land of a thousand hills don't offer food to their guests at wedding receptions but I've at least demystified one mystery that haunts my past. At the reception I asked a neighbor who knew English to tell me how I would phrase this in Kinyarwanda, “I'm hungry. Are they about to serve food?” I crammed the phrase – which I've obviously forgotten now, and then regurgitated it to one of the smiley girls who had been serving us sodas and more sodas for the last four hours. In her usual unmistakable smiling self, she replied “oh yeah”. Or so I assumed.
Another hour passed and there was no sign of food. The traditional dancers gracefully danced away and kept us entertained but the food servers disgracefully refused to show up and the food remained invisible. My stomach grumbled on and my eyes scanned the entire place for signs of food until my head started spinning. I couldn't stand it anymore. I broached my neighbor who knew English again, “I thought she said they were about to serve food.” With a trace of concern in his eyes and a little smirk forming on his lips he told me quite slowly and in a low tone, as if explaining to retard, “you – asked – her – whether – they – were – going – to – serve – food. And in Kinyarwanda, she replied 'oya'. Oya, means no.”
I almost fainted. And I don't know whether it was hunger, the shock of attending a party and not eating (where I come from, 'party' means eating more food than your stomach can comfortably contain), the reverse and unusual discomfort of an empty stomach at a party or the sudden infuriating realization that some years ago, a sweet Rwandese neighbor offered me a lift in her car on a cold rainy evening and I told her “No, no!”
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