Cultural Orientation

September 16, 2012

I have more than survived my first week in the ever so lovely Rwanda. The week included 8 to 5 meetings at the US Embassy composed of intensive  language lessons in Ikinyarwanda, culture studies and sessions on how to teach English amidst the Rwandan culture. One may think that would leave little energy for exploration of the capital or to meet locals, but the idea of being abroad is not just found in a small airless room surrounded by books. I may have wished the latter form of learning several years ago. But after exploring Cameroon and Suriname a bit, I’ve learned that the best experiences/intercultural epiphanies come over a cup of afternoon tea or a late evening beer (disclaimer: never more than one beer in a new bar and always surrounded by dependable travel companions). For any academics reading, the importance of primary research cannot be underestimated.  And in the form of informal discussion, it can be quite fun. Of course, people are not only subjects to be studied. But most everyone generally reacts postively when others invest time in them for either learning or to gain a relationship, even if they are muzungus (foreigners). No matter how tired I was during this first week, I tried my best to sit down and shoot the breeze with a Rwandan each day.

That seemingly simple statement said, Rwanda is noticeably different from anything that I’ve experienced. The city of Kigali is CLEAN and CALM, beyond what I thought any city of over 1 million could be. The land on which the city is built is quite hilly and has allowed large green spaces to separate the various districts. The people are outwardly very friendly particularly to young girls attempting ikinyarwanda, but lack the boisterousness of West Africans. And yet, there is clearly a stoicism that I don’t understand. For example, eating in public is not even remotely considered as it demonstrates a sense of weakness or fallibility. The stoicism is also oddly evident in frank conversation even when omitting more historically sensitive topics. Hopefully, this trait and its reasoning will become more comprehensible to my American neediness (I need to eat every 3 hours or I become a toddler) as make a few more intimate relationships. Even so, the stoicism appears to be quite enigmatic and may be a part of the culture that I will never truly understand, no matter how long I stay here. But as in Ray Bradbury’s quote above, there is an esthetic to being lost, both physically and culturally.

3 Responses to “Cultural Orientation”

  1. elissa field Says:

    There we go! I found your blog and “followed” so I can keep track of your travels. Enjoy, discover and be safe!

  2. Sandy Pants Says:

    It’s so great to see that you’re taking the time to really get to know the culture and show everyone your awesome personality! Hope that your adventures continue to be educational, challenging, and totally awesome! 🙂

  3. Nancy Field Says:

    Hi My Sweet Katie!
    Sounds like you are making the absolute most of every day…which I knew you would. What a fabulous opportunity. Keep the photos coming as well. Know we love you!
    Aunt Nan

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