We had to get from the Remera office to the Centreville office, so we took the city bus. They are essentially the size of the sort of Volkswaagen vans that a band of five would use to roam the United States, but instead somehow crammed with five rows of four and two seats with additional fold-down seats in the aisle. Since these aisle seats are always taken, no one has legroom and everyone in the aisle must stand up and fold their seat at each stop.
Today it was raining as we passed Parliament, a stark building riddled with mortar shells perched on top of a hill overlooking the city. As I sat glumly in my aisle seat, I felt two eyes peering at me. They belonged to a little kid in a white polo shirt and pressed khakis, who was trying to summon courage to say something to me. I broke the ice and said hello. Carefully, he started talking. “Hello. My name is Eric. I am nine. What is your name? What is your address and phone number?” His English vocabulary beyond this script was a little sparse, but he did manage to tell me he was on his way to sing a song on a radio show and that he practiced singing on Mondays and Tuesdays. He proudly pointed out the huge building where the station was, and continued trying out new phrases as we approached. When we reached his stop, I wished him luck and gave him a high-five, which made him smile broadly. As he jumped out of the bus, he cheerfully greeted an elderly gentleman in line, and then hopped down the street to his appointment.
Everyone on the bus began murmuring. My colleague J, a Rwandan attorney, translated. They had been struck by what a charming little kid Eric was. My colleague and I considered how great the world could be if we could all truly communicate with each other, despite our distinct languages. This led to him teaching me how to count in Kinyarwanda. I realized somewhere around “five” that everyone on the little bus was listening to the lesson. They would murmur approval when I got close to a decent pronunciation. Not wanting to let the good will slip away without offering something in return, I asked if anyone wanted to learn Chinese. They were all very excited about this, and so I taught them how to count from one to five in Mandarin and how to say, “thank you.” “Ni byiza,” some said in Kinyarwanda. “Tres bien,” others said in French. When the bus emptied downtown, we said goodbye to one other in all our respective languages.
One Rimwe Yi Un
Two Kabiri Er Deux
Three Gatatu San Trois
Four Kane Si Quatre
Five Gatanu Wu Cinq
Thanks Murakoze Xie Xie Merci
Goodbye Murabeho Zai Jian Au revoir