Last night, Simone and I went to see a Canadian play called “Goodness” at a restaurant called Heaven here in Kigali. Go figure! We had no idea what we were in for. It was a brilliant play sort of about the genocide but also about human nature. I do recommend the play. The troupe was from Toronto and I imagine it will continue to show there after this tour. But all that is beside the point.
Early on the play, one character is under assault from another character, who says to him disgustedly, “You Americans are all alike!” He replies, “Actually, I am Canadian.” And in a kind of soft-voiced afterthought, he says, “Sorry.” I laughed aloud at the joke.
Afterwards, one of the actors said to me that was so nice to hear people laughing at the Canadian jokes, like the one above. I said that actually, in Rwanda, people say sorry even more than we Canadians do. And they do but mostly for different reasons.
At first I was a bit bemused by it, but now I find it endearing. For example, I am walking along a sidewalk, not paying enough attention, and I stumble on an uneven bit of pavement. Several people rush to me saying, “Sorry!” and make sure I am okay. Or on the bus the other day, the long bar I (and several other people) was holding to keep steady fell out of its socket. Everyone was sorry, sorry, sorry! Or I drop something accidentally, and people are sorry.
Canadians are sorry (a lot) when we feel we ourselves have somehow done something wrong or disappointed someone. I like this about Canadians. And this is also true of Rwandans, but in addition, it seems that when something “bad” happens to someone else, people express their concern by saying sorry. I feel comforted by the outpouring of concern. It makes me feel I have a tiny relationship with every single person in my vicinity, wherever I go. I never feel alone.