Sunday, July 18, 2010

We have Come to Take and to Give

by Julien Niyingabira

I got my very first lesson at the airport when I was in front of a glass-wall cabin of a U.S. customer officer. He was speaking in "American" with a nasal accent and I couldn't hear what he was saying to me.

"What?" I asked.
He looked at me and started to move repetitively his white pen between his fingers and watched me without saying a word.

"Is it it your first time to U.S.?", he finally asked.
"Yes Sir"
"Then a word of advice, you should know that 'what' is a very bad word. Use 'excuse me' or any other more polite form".

I was feeling humiliated and very shocked that my first experience in U.S. was not being polite enough. But I appreciated the lesson and I personally think that a quite considerable number of Americans need to pass through somewhere in Newark Airport to take the same lesson.

For me, I try my best to put this into practice and I'm doing well.
"We have come to take and to give" one of my colleagues in the SUSI program said a few days ago. Danjuma Gambo from Nigeria. This is a sentence very easy to construct but it is a sentence full of wisdom and it expresses in less than ten words far more than a thousand hours that we are supposed to spend in this country.

So far I have learned a lot on USA media systems and cultural aspects and on other countries represented in this program. Now I know that I should never tell a Macedonian that Alexander The Great was a Greek. No way. No matter how much my history teacher has repeated this to me in high school, I have found another version of this history. And I have looked at the Israel-Palestinian conflict through a Palestinian perspective.

I really feel I have "taken" something so far. I would love to give something as well. A lot of thanks to some of my colleagues who have largely sympathized on the dark history of my country, the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi. I would like to thank them.

But there is one question to which you will hardly find an answer from most of Rwandans the world all over! Eugene Kwibuka is a Rwandan journalist and a couple of years ago he was invited on a live interview at a Canadian television channel CBC. "Could you tell us whether you are Hutu or Tutsi?" the host of the show asked him. The man caught fire in his eyes and hardly kept himself away from being overwhelmed by his own reaction to this normal question of the journalist. At the end of all, he didn't give any small piece of the answer to the question, no matter how many times the host had tried to reformulate it. That's how it is for most of Rwandans.

As giving brings more happiness than receiving, please accept this little more gift: I have discussed a lot with SUSI 2010 participants about different experiences in our respective countries. But always when it came to my country I had to answer to questions like "Is it safe to go to Rwanda?" Come on! It's been a half generation since this question had its right place to be asked. We should, instead, discuss our incredibly delicious coffee, our beautiful mountain gorillas and our weather which lets every plant flourish during the whole year.

"Wow you live in paradise," Amani from Bahrain flattered me.

So as Gambo from Nigeria stated that we have come to take and to give, this will be my Sunday gift to all of my readers who still prevent themselves from having the best holidays tracking the mountain gorillas or watching the sunset on the gorgeous Lake Kivu.

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