Learning to Slow Down

“Buhoro, buhoro!” my host mother shouts as I hurry through the spotless dining room of my new home in Rwanda.  I have half a piece of bread hanging from my mouth, my weighty backpack slung at an odd angle across one shoulder, my phone in one hand, and a cup of tea swaying in the other.  To your average American, this might look like a fairly standard morning routine, but my host mother looks utterly confused and mildly concerned as she watches the hectic foreigner tear through the room.

At the time, I did not know the meaning of the phrase she had directed at me, but her waving hand gestures and rapid movement to pull out a chair made her meaning perfectly clear: sit down, finish eating, then you can go.  My LCF (Language and Cultural Facilitator i.e. person responsible for ensuring I know enough Kinyarwanda to get by) later told my class it translated roughly to “slow down”.

Well, this was a sentiment I had heard before.  Memories of my instructors in Tanzania telling me “pole, pole!” as I leapt out of one of our cars in a rush to get to the next destination.  “Slowly, slowly,” they would laugh, “this is Africa!”

I have long been accustomed to people telling me to take it easy.  Teachers in school used to tell me that I was getting ahead of myself in my inquisitiveness and to take a second to focus on the material at hand.  My friends often poke fun of me for thinking too far ahead and needing to plan many hours – or better yet, days – in advance, despite there being no real reason for needing to do so.  Even my parents have spent a great deal of my life telling me that I need to learn how to slow down a little, even if just for a moment.

Clearly, I never learned.  But in Africa, it seems like these lessons will now be forced upon me.  Life just moves at a different pace here; in many ways this is not a bad thing, even for someone like me who will fight to speed things up at every turn.  Set meeting times are thought to be “flexible” here.  Even an 8:00 A.M. church service might not start until 9:30 or later.  Tasks like preparing food are not done rapidly and with as much automation as possible, but with care and effort.  Getting to class a few minutes late because I stopped for a moment on my morning run to watch the sun rise seems to be perfectly acceptable behavior.

My host sibs blow off chores for a bit to watch a Rwandan TV movie


I’ve found that there are many implications to this varied pace of life.  Less tasks get accomplished in one day than most Americans that I know would be comfortable with, but there is a greater appreciation for the things that get done.  I also never feel the need to skip an enjoyable moment because there are simply too many things to do; missing out on studying Kinyarwanda for a single evening to have a sing-along session with my cohort was perfectly okay and getting home 15 minutes late because I simply didn’t want to leave early was just brushed aside.

I don’t know if I will ever really get used to the pace of life here.  Tardiness to meetings will almost certainly get under my skin at some point and I hope the feeling that there is always something else that I need to be doing dissipates soon, but I’m not holding my breath.  However, if the lessons of Africa mean a few more temperate moments in my life or just a few extra sunrises enjoyed, then I will consider it a great success.

Listening To: Make Them Gold, CHVRCHES

Word of the Day: Ndagerageza (I’m trying… I say this at least once a conversation.)

Watching that early morning sunrise
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One thought on “Learning to Slow Down

  1. Wow
    What a great experience and the wonderful way you tell it.
    I am sure that your 2 years will define your life as my 2 years in Korea changed my for the good.
    Hope you post more of your adventures.

    Like

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