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Life Reflections

Let’s freely laugh at our little foibles

By May 4, 2012June 6th, 2023No Comments

The many ‘negatively-opinionated’ reports that had come to characterise comments on this country by outsiders seem to be dying out. So, let’s take a breather and look back at the things that amused many people when Rwandans ‘reassembled’ in their country, in 1994, as a society that had been torn up into those inside and those outside.

As expected, there were many communication problems when Rwandans got together again. But, rather than being a hindrance, these problems became a source of amusement for everybody, a factor that in its small measure contributed to remoulding their society. This ability to find humour in the littlest things proved to be an asset.

There was the case of ‘Sopecya’, for instance, a French acronym for a petrol company, ‘Socièté Petrolière de Cyangugu’. That acronym was also the name of the company’s petrol station that happened to be near a minibus taxi stage, which stage had also been baptised ‘Sopecya’. For sounding like a Kinyarwanda name, ‘Sopecya’ used to confuse many who had not lived in Rwanda previously.

It’s said that when a lady wanted to alight from her taxi at the stage and said: “Sopecya ndasigara” (I’d like to alight at Sopecya), there was a lady next to her who also wanted to alight. In the belief that the former was called Sopecya, she said: “Sipesiyoza nanjye ndasigara” (I, Sipesiyoza, would also like to alight).

Then there was the case of ‘cure-dents’ (French for ‘toothpicks’). An Anglophone RPA soldier (now in the regular army) and his Francophone date were finishing up their dinner when the lady asked for “cure-dents”. Taking that to be the name of some kind of dessert, the soldier declared: “I’ll take the same for my dessert also.” Many Rwandans refer to dessert as “cure-dent” up to now.

In Francophone Rwanda, sodas like Fanta, Coca Cola and others were all known as “Fanta”. Imagine the confusion of an Anglophone lady, then, when she ordered for a Fanta and was promptly asked: “Which Fanta?” When she asked if there were many Fantas, it was impatiently explained that she should be able to see the list: “Citron, Orange, Coca, Sprite…. they are all Fantas.” Many Anglophones initially unfamiliar with “citron” even called it “straw”!

As soon as English became an official language alongside French, the story goes that even four-legged “Rwandans” joined the scramble to add those two languages on their Kinyarwanda. Note, when Rwandans say they are bilingual, they’ll be talking about French and English and ignoring their Kinyarwanda and any other language they may know.

Anyway, Dog was one time sitting next to Cat when Cat suddenly started barking. Puzzled, Dog rubbed his eyes and looked again but, sure enough, the barking was from Cat. Dog: “Well, well! So, Cat, what’s with the barking?” Cat: “My friend, with this new craze about the English language, how can you hope to rise in this Rwandan society unless you become bilingual?” Barking and meowing, don’t ask me which was supposed to be French or which, English!

Apart from French and English, the new RPA soldiers used Kiswahili a lot. And since it was almost similar to Kinyarwanda, senior citizens (the elderly) could have an idea when it was spoken, but again it could present difficulties. The word ‘knees’ in Kinyarwanda (amavi) actually sounds like a word in Kiswahili which, unfortunately, refers to something to do with what’s necessarily always “discarded”.

When two senior citizens who had picked bits of the Kiswahili language entered a minibus taxi and sat next to a senior-citizen lady in a mini, one glanced at the knees but was not clear if those were the ones referred to in an insulting Kiswahili phrase. He asked his friend: “Aya si yo ‘—– ya mama yako’ bavuga?” (he was asking if those were not the ‘knees of the mother’ referred to in Kiswahili). ‘Mzee’ is still unclear as to why he was rewarded with a ‘handbag-blow’ on his bald dome by the ‘bare-knees’ lady.

But Rwandans don’t laugh at jokes only over language problems. When RPA soldiers were still rebels, two of them were one time sitting under a tree shade in Akagera Park, one with a gun, the other without. As they were talking, they saw a male lion ambling along. Unarmed soldier: “Look! What if he attacks us?” Armed soldier: “Remember, I have a gun.” Unarmed: “What if you miss?” Armed: “Then we’ll climb this tree.” Unarmed: “What if he follows us up?” Irritated, Armed: “Look! Are you on my side or…..?”

Another time, an unarmed duo of RPA rebels were taking in the sun in Akagera National Park when they saw a buffalo bull, at the head of a herd, advancing towards them. Having both removed their boots, a trademark of the rebels those days, when one of the duo put them back on, the other was surprised and asked him what he could achieve, since they both knew that you cannot outrun a charging buffalo.

‘Shoed soldier’ looked at ‘Unshoed soldier’ scornfully and spat out: “Who said anything about outrunning the buffalo, slow friend?”

Remember, where we mention RPA soldiers, we are probably talking about high-ranking officers in today’s army. The senior citizens and young lady alluded to are also doing well today. As to whether Dog and Cat are still around, your guess is as good as mine — probably even better!

The capacity to make fun about themselves and their situation without exception is a contributory factor in the effort Rwandans are applying to re-bond.

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