Language barrier in Rwanda?


In my head I thought Rwandans speak Kiswahili. Then after a small search as I was preparing myself to come, I realised they don’t. They speak English and Kinyarwanda. So I thought ‘no problem, we’ll communicate using English, right?’. Well shock on me. 

So I arrived and had a set of around 4 hotels I wanted to stay in. I show them to around 4 boda boda people and they know none. They all ask me to call the places so that we can get directions. Unlucky for me, I didn’t note down the contact numbers of those hotels. So after a 10 minute wait I decide to just move. So I tell this young boda boda guy to take me to any hotel. 

We start moving and we enter into a petrol station. But he doesn’t ask for fuel, instead he talks to the pump attendant. That’s when this pump attendant explains to me, that the boda boda guy doesn’t understand English so I should explain to him what I want, then he’ll in turn explain to him. We end up agreeing on a plan. 

My boda boda guy turns out to be such a good guy. He even waits for me as I register a line, something I doubt a Kenyan boda boda person would have done, unless at an extra cost. So I come to the hotel and same story, the lady i meet doesn’t speak English too. And even the one I finally get we have to use a little phone’s help to agree. 

But the lady at the MTN service shop spoke English eloquently. 

For some reason this had caught me totally unawares. I was ready for new things, but I didn’t expect a language barrier in Rwanda. And I’m not surprised in a bad way, actually two days ago I was wondering what it feels like to go to a new land where they don’t speak any language at all. And how it’ll be crazy going around. 

For me these are the things that make my trip interesting. There is the usual tourist attraction sites and travelling to places and then there is interacting with people on a one on one basis like with my boda boda guy. Experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

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