During the past week, I’ve met a lot of new people. Every day, I’ve been making myself get out of the house to meet people and explore the community. Most of my interactions with people follow a simple script: Hello, how are you? I’m fine. My name is Lauren. I am an American. I will teach English here. I’m going to town to buy some bananas. Nice to meet you! Goodbye.” The typical reactions I get can be summarized into a few general categories.
Old Women: They will shake your hand vigorously and not let go for the entirety of the conversation. They are excited that you know a few words in Kinyarwanda and assume you speak a lot better than you do, so they start speaking so vuba vuba (quickly) that there is no hope of you understanding. When you ask them to slow down or repeat, they chuckle to themselves and wish you a good day.
Old Men: They will also try to speak to you very quickly and shake your hand profusely, but sometimes they switch to French, which helps the conversation a good deal.
Younger Women: Most of them are pretty shy. You’ll notice them glancing at you from downcast eyes, trying to be sneaky. You have to make the first move and greet them. Immediately their faces light up, and huge smiles stretch from ear to ear.
Teenagers: They stare at the spectacle of the lone white girl walking through the village like everyone else, but when you greet them, they act too cool to talk to you and just give you that slight head nod.
Children: They see you coming down the road, and they start yelling, “Umuzungu, umuzungu!” They immediately drop whatever they are doing and race to the edge of the road. For a minute all you hear is a stampede of feet trampling down hillsides and through bushes rushing towards you. As soon as you get close enough, they recite the same English speech they’ve all learned at school. “Good morning, teacher. How are you? I am fine, thank you, teacher. And you?” No matter the time of day, they say good morning, and they always ask how you are twice.
They also like to ask you your name every time they see you. At my training site, some of the kids finally learned my name. Nevertheless whenever they saw me, they would line the street and yell, “Lauren! Lauren! What is your name?”
The other afternoon I went on a hike to get the lay of the land at my permanent site. I was walking down this small road, where I’m pretty sure very few abazungu have ever been. The road wound back and forth down the mountain to the valley floor where there was a bubbling stream. As I was making my way down my mountain, kids across the valley on the ridge opposite me started shouting to me. They were far enough away that I could hardly see where the shouts were coming from, but somehow they still managed to make out I was white. “Muzungu! Good morning, teacher! How are youuuuuu?” So we continued the usual conversation, shouting back and forth across the mountains.
One week down, two years to go!