• September 2015
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All These People And All The Things They Need To Learn

I have been teaching adolescents for a decade now. In that time, I have had the sage advice of my graduate school professors proven over and over again. Children learn best when you don’t “tell” them stuff, but guide them to or through an experience that will lead to their own understanding.

I have made the choice to allow this method of teaching to trickle into my non-school life as well. See, I have been living in Africa for a year now. I was once new to this continent. I once needed to learn. When people took that old school approach to teaching and learning (“No, Keturah, don’t go into the bank when you have somewhere else to be in 3 days.”), I did not heed such warning because I felt like I was being “taught.” Now, when people led me through learning experiences (“I guess if you really want to ask for a refund on this service that was totally effed up and not what you requested, then go head on, give it a go, girl”), I have truly owned this new information and used it to adjust my expectations.

There are so many people who come here from so many places who need to learn so many things.

Take for instance, my friend, “Paulina.” She came here from London. She came here needing to get a very important multi-paged, multi-colored document printed for work . She also needed multiple copies of this multi-paged, multi-colored document. And she needed it printed in a timely fashion. There were so many things I wanted to tell Paulina. I tried to suggest that perhaps her order was a bit too complicated. She did not hear my effort to teach her about the difference in printing something that seems simple here and in London. When she sent the printer one version and then changed it a day or two later, I wanted to say: “You know, the printer probably never paid attention to that second one, right? You might want to…” But, I held my tongue. When Paulina went to the printer to pick up her order, I sent her an emoticon giving a hug in response to her text saying: WTF, this is a hot ass mess. Because I kept my mouth shut this time, Paulina came to her own understanding. “I think I might need to send him a much simpler version,” she said to me after her second trip to the printer and encountering an even hotter mess than the first time.

These new foreigners all need to learn how to order in restaurants. Someone needs to tell them that although all the blogs said that English has been the “official” language of Rwanda for five whole years now, there are more than a few non-privileged Rwandans who never learned their old “official” language of French completely. And among the ones who did master fluency in it early on in their lives, this English thing was only enforced in their schools five years ago – when none of their teachers could speak it and were expected to teach in it and their mama’nems had no clue what the hell anyone was saying when they used it so they would revert back to French or their real language, Kinyarwanda, when they were supposed to be speaking their new “official” language of English.

I want to tell these Americans that all this English they keep throwing out there to waiters does not go down easier just because they say it with gigantic, goofy smiles and at decibels that disturb other diners.

I wanted to teach this American lady so badly the other day when I was having dinner with my homeboy who used to need to learn these things, too.

We were in the latest Indian restaurant to open in Kigali. This way too friendly American lady answered a simple question from the waitress (“And for your drink, Madam?”) with a long ass diatribe about how much she really liked African beer. She went on and on about her friend who back packed through Tanzania once and tried this beer in Zanzibar and raved about it and she had forgotten the name of it and did the waitress know what it might be and she knew she wanted beer, but if she couldn’t have this Tanzanian beer, what might the waitress suggest.

The American lady mistook the waitress’s silent smiling as a sign of some sort of successful communication, of course. Remembering all the¬†waitresses I had put through similar awkward situations when I was still learning myself, I chimed in. “You know what beer is good here, Miss? Skol. You should get a Skol.” I even went further in my progressive teaching approach and explicitly stated, “Order a small Skol. Tell her you want it cold.”

The Americans are often the hardest to teach.

Right when the waitress was about to walk off, this chick decides she needs to know how the beer is packaged. “Is that in a bottle or a can because I like the taste of can better than bottle and….”

As she hurled another long, wordy story at this woman who nodded her head the proper number of times and managed to say, “No problem” when there were definitive pauses, my homeboy and I looked at each other and decided to let this interaction take its natural course.

Because this lady needed to learn.

20 minutes later, I saw the waitress heading towards the lady’s table with two Heinekens. In bottles.

“And so it begins,” my homeboy chuckled as the waitress sat both beers in front of the woman who was dining alone.

“But, wait…I thought I ordered…” The woman stumbled her way through another wordy soliloquy about being misunderstood and wanting to send back the beer when the waitress had already TAKEN THE TOP OFF OF ONE OF THE BOTTLES.

“I don’t understand why you can’t take it back.”

Of course you don’t, American Lady. But, soon, you will.

I want to explain to her how all expectations of getting a beverage replaced should just be sentenced to the back of one’s mind when said beverage has already been opened, but I see she is not ready for this lesson. She is staring at the waitress who has walked off to another table and wondering out loud, “I guess I can understand how she brought me the wrong beer, but why would she bring me two?”

When the waitress comes back to our table, I see the woman looking at her, wondering if she should make an issue out of what she truly believes is a major problem with her dining experience. My teacher instincts kick in and I decide to capitalize off what we in the profession refer to as a teachable moment and model to her what she SHOULD have done.

“African tea, please.”

“Big or small?”


“Would you like milk?”

“No problem.”

“And sugar?”

“No problem.”

“And for your meal?”

I slowly and carefully open my menu and point to #101.

“This one – the chicken karma.”

My homeboy adds, “And we would like two orders of naan.”

The woman looks unsure and begins, “I do not know if we have. It might be finished. I will need to check.”

We both chime in, “No problem.” And then my homeboy says, ” No bread.¬†Bring rice. Muracoze cyane.”

When the waitress strolls off, I look towards the woman and realize she has not been paying attention as I diagrammed this goddamn sentence right in front of her.

I shrug my shoulders and accept she will be that student. When she is one half credit away from almost not graduating with her friends because she blew off that one gym class freshman year, she will learn.

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