Gutangirye. Let’s begin. 

On the long drive back to Kigali, winding down green hills in the Western Province of Rwanda, our driver, Marc Kubwimana, 31, began teaching me phrases in Kinyarwanda, the mother tongue of his country. Though the official language of business and education here was changed from French to English in 2007, every Rwandan speaks Kinyarwanda.

It is an exercise in patience as my tongue stumbles over unfamiliar sounds and syllables, and Marc laughs, shaking his head. Eventually, after hours of practice, I understand.

“I learned English,” Marc tells me. “So, you can learn Kinyarwanda.”

In one week’s time, I have amassed a small vocabulary.

I greet people in the mornings, as the clouds hang low over rooftops of orange and red. Waramutse. I ask how people are doing, and answer the same.

Amakuru yawe? Ni meza. As I finish my interviews, I thank people for their time. Murakoze.

All the while, Marc looks on, smiling.

“I am a good teacher,” he says. “You are learning.”

-Marissa Lang