I sometimes sit back and cannot understand my fellow Rwandans. You need two brains to keep up with the changing slang. “As soon as the Jamma ingiyad the gwa, they meleed him properly. I saw the jamma he is still neshing and they ate cartoon dime.”
Yes, I know it is confusing. On closer inquiry it was about a man robbed in Nairobi “As soon as he entered the premises, he was assaulted. I saw him recently and he was still suffering pain, and the thieves took a pitiful amount of money.”
Slang is nothing new. I remember my parents were worried in the 80’s that they couldn’t understand me. The Sheng of Nairobi then was incomprehensible, the words and contexts were changing all the time.
You come back from Christmas holiday to find the code had switched completely. What makes Rwandan slang so hard to understand is the hotch-potch of words we picked along the way in exile.
A friend of mine, who would proudly call himself a “Sopecha” complained about this to me. He has never left the country except for military service in Darfur and Congo, so he came away with the feeling that the world is not worth seeing, he has his land and cows and is content.
He complained about his children also mimicking the bad Kinyarwanda and slang words they hear from former Diaspora kids. So this way bad Kinyarwanda becomes a badge of affluence, to be spoken with pride.
The fact that the young are all mixing socially means inevitably words will also be exchanged. The language becomes a compromise of different contexts and meanings with a fluid vocabulary of buzz words.
It makes you realise the 3 underlying uses of language. One is to be understood fully by those around you. The other purpose sometimes is to allow some understanding but keep certain things in code. And finally it can exclude those you don’t want to understand.
So the sentence “I have hahad your KB” if broken down means “I have laughed at your conversation.”
The Onomatopoeia of laughter “Haha” becomes an action hence a verb, this verb is then put in past tense “hahad.” Then KB is Luganda abbreviation for Kaboozi or juicy conversation.
“The jamma was neshing.” The Kinyarwanda word for agonising suffering Kunesha, becomes a word in English to Nesh, the act of neshing.
“My girlfriend took me back but only after a long neshing period” my friend said to me. So this is what my friends call this part of life, the “neshing period” where you just have to pay your dues until you make it in life. You won’t know whether you made it until your kids are graduated but even after that there are troubles.
All this slang offers a window into the mindsets of the people speaking. Trying to fit in the modern world as well as keeping the old words and contexts and redefining them where necessary.
Anyway it is time for me to bounce the gwa and make some kidogo dime before I find myself neshing again.