Twese Hamwe (All of Us Together)
My mouth dropped as I scanned the first chapter of our new language books. Kinyarwanda, which is spoken by all 12 million of Rwanda’s inhabitants, is a beautiful and multifaceted language. The jaw-dropping moment occurred because of a connection I realized between the nature of the language and the nature of Rwandans themselves. You see, Kinyarwanda is an agglutinative language which is a fancy linguistic way of saying that multiple parts of words which on their own have no function can be “glued" together and make an entire sentence out of what I, as an English speaker, would perceive to be a single word. For example “turabonana” written as a single word would be translated as “we’ll be seeing each other later” or “see you around”. The same may be said of the Rwandan people for whom togetherness is an acknowledged precursor to purposefulness. I moved to my site two weeks before Christmas and the holiday season involved many greetings of ‘noheri nziza’ (Merry Christmas) and subsequently umwaka mushya (Happy New Year) to which the culturally appropriate response is ‘kuri twese’ or ‘twese hamwe’ (to all of us together). These community oriented responses extend to mealtimes. In the United States, we would offer a polite “thank you” to someone’s statement of “enjoy” regarding a meal. In Rwanda, the equivalent of “enjoy" is “muryoherwe" to which the response is again “twese" (all of us). Even sneezing invokes the ‘twese’ response to the declaration of ‘urakire’ (be rich). These anecdotes of the language point to how embedded the concept of community is in Rwandan culture. As a foreigner, I’m always grateful for how Rwandans consistently fold me into their lives. One of my favorite recent examples of this is when I was strolling through my regional town trying to locate a hair salon. I popped into an eatery and asked one of the customers, a total stranger to me, if he knew where I could find the salon. He gave me some instructions in rapid Kinyarwanda and although I was still confused, I left and tried to find the place. A couple of minutes later, still quite lost, I turned around to discover the man had come after me. Laughing and chatting, he guided me to my destination. I regularly have similar experiences that mirror this one. As an American and an introvert in this culture, my concepts of individuality, personal space, and alone time are challenged on a daily basis. As a Peace Corps volunteer striving to integrate, I welcome the challenge and the accompanying inspiration that I find in embracing the togetherness of Rwandans. I am also reminded that the long term impact of my service will be determined not by how much I am able to accomplish on my own but rather on how well my work is embedded into the culture and community. Just like the parts of their language, Rwandans stick together creating something beautiful, whole, and meaningful. And as for me, I am just glad to be a small part of that whole.