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Children drink milk during Umuganura .Using Kinyarwanda among parents and children may not be so common and, indeed, it should be encouraged.

December 23, 2022

A fellow greyhead and oft-grabber of my space in this very daily thinks Rwandan parents and their children communicating in Kinyarwanda at home are a rare species these days. But, personally, I share no such qualms.

He was all agog when he met a thus-communicating family at a clinic but I am happier about his repaired back than I am, about that encounter!

READ ALSOParents, please speak Kinyarwanda with your children

Admitted. Using Kinyarwanda among parents and children may not be so common and, indeed, it should be encouraged. But meet any child as an elder outside their home and try it out. You’ll get a bigger surprise than you bargained for!

The unintended thing may be that the domestic worker will be to thank for it. But even for that, I wouldn’t miss a heartbeat. Because if they are villagers, you need not worry.

After all, that’s where you, in your knee-length kanzu-looking shirt as your sole clothing, acquired your Kinyarwanda, even if it was in a refugee camp, in a foreign land.

Still, that’s the Kinyarwanda you were able to pass on to your children and are now occasionally passing on to your grandchildren. “Occasionally” because it’s not often that your children avail them to you.

Talking of that kanzu-shirt, I can’t resist the itch to let the cat out of your bag (forgive the pun!). Remember the American Peace Corps young lady working for a charity organisation that distributed proper clothing to refugee kids? And when it was your turn? Smooth-faced, non-English speaker kid that you were, your gender couldn’t be determined except by her lifting your kanzu-shirt.

As we speak, the ridges around Gahunge, Tooro, are still echoing her “Oh, my ‘Gahd’!”

Which, take heart, doesn’t make you the lone victim of these Western do-gooders’ condescending approaches. I remember telling my Scottish Headmaster my true age which, due to my stunting refugee life, didn’t show on my face. He dismissed it and halved it, instead, then sent me off.

Only to meet me later, fresh from the class desk I always sat at. You know our stiff khaki shorts and how they never re-straightened quickly enough when you stood up, yet the fly of your shorts was not the zip type but, rather, the type held together by buttons. With undergarments unknown to us those days, the folds of your fly in between buttons showed all!

Which prompted the headmaster to chuckle out in his Scottish accent: “Well, well, shmall boy, we’ve got ourshelves shome multiple bushes here, no? Who’d’ve told you were so old, actually!”

But, as oldies are wont to, I digress, ….

Even if, I must say, it explains something related to our topic. The then-young lady, if still alive, may not be better at English than you. And my late H/M, bless his soul, wasn’t better than I, either. We didn’t pick it from home!

But again, we were on the imperative of parents and children communicating in Kinyarwanda in their homes. Granted, it isn’t common. However, I think the times are to blame. Today’s mode of life, with parents literally full-time at work and children at school, complicates matters further. Worse still, both parents and children are equally grammar-handicapped.

Or is it attributable to the fact that language evolves?

“Urikumva/uri kumva” and its accompanying intonation, as example, used to be a subject of mirth as our Kinyarwanda variant preserve around our northern volcanoes. Today, fellow ancestor, when next you visit your repairer, say the correct “Urumva” and you’ll be laughed out of the clinic!

But my rungano need not worry. Parents and children apart, Kinyarwanda among the youth is alive and kicking. As said, I cannot vouch for its linguistic accuracy, and that goes both ways, but it suffices to meet a group of youths hanging out. You’ll be surprised to find them raucously talking and joking in their mother tongue and no other lingo.

It takes good knowledge of a language to be able to crack jokes in it. In addition, check out the abundant social media jokes and quick rebuttals to sarcastic questions and you’ll realise these kids beat you in the language, hands down!

As for comedy groups, like Seka Live, you’ll find none in any other language. What about the many young MCs with their intricate cultural nuances, especially at specialised cultural rituals of weddings? In other gatherings, too, they are a dime a dozen, many revelling in its song and dance.

I guess when you are immersed in a culture, you cannot run away from its language.

Fellow old-timer, remember a recent get-together for the youths behind this very English daily and how they could all effortlessly switch from English to Kinyarwanda and vice versa, in a news outlet strictly using English?

In fact, the session demonstrated something fundamentally heart-lifting. The future of our society is in good hands. Apart from easily switching languages, some making them Kinyarwanda-English-French-Kiswahili and more, the vivacity, vibrancy, camaraderie, with which all youths interact so freely portends a future of close togetherness.

Mind you, in that get-together it was only displayed when they came up for air. Otherwise, they are always buried in work burrowing for what to tell the world the following day on time, without fail. Respecting their hierarchy and yet without losing touch with their shared empathy, as displayed by their ever-so-hilarious mimicry of one another.

If you had misgivings for the future of this land, fellow oldies, put your hearts at rest. The ‘architectured’ institutions and enterprises already in place will remain intact and, no doubt, more will be added to them. Especially as many of them are already in these youth-hands.

Whether out of them will emerge the likes of one who led the effort of uniting a shredded society; a passionate lover of the disadvantaged; fierce fighter against oppression; strong loyalist of friendship; military strategist of no equal; agile diplomat who engages South and North, East and West; statesman par excellence. That, dear rungano, will be for the future to reveal.

Still, the strong optimist that I am, I dare posit: Rwanda and Kinyarwanda are safe and sound.

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