The art of the "eh"
Here’s a tip for anyone who comes to Rwanda and doesn’t know how to respond to a question: just say “eh.” Not a Canadian “eh,” but with a tone of acknowledgment. (It sounds kind of like, “Eh, how YOU doin’?”) If it were a word, it would be the most popular in the Kinyarwanda language.
“Eh” means about 400 different things. It can mean “oh,” or “yes,” or “sure,” or “I heard you,” or "I don't believe you," or "you're joking," among others. So once you’re beyond the “hello” and “how are you?” and someone asks you a follow-up question, and you have no idea what they’re saying, if you just say, “eh,” people often think that you’ve responded (and therefore understood), and they don’t ask further questions.
It’s also helpful when people talk about you, which is obvious because even a Kinyarwanda amateur can hear “muzungu” dropped into a nearby conversation. Looking up and responding, “eh,” often makes people stop in their tracks, because they think you’ve understood them! And then they laugh (in a good way) because everyone believes that muzungus don’t understand any Kinyarwanda!
On that note, I’m going to add more words to the Kinyarwanda dictionary. I recently found a book (more like a pamphlet) in Kigali with some English-Kinyarwanda vocabulary, and will share...