“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.
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.)