Do the students ever lie to you? The question came from one of the Korean volunteers who I work with at school. "Of course! All the time!" I answered. She was surprised that the students lie so much, and yet you will always find them praying and singing hymns in the afternoon. I believe lying is actually an integral part of Rwandan culture.
Can lying be cultural? And if it is, how could it possibly benefit a society for its members to deceive each other? It doesn't seem so strange of an idea when we consider the geography of Rwanda.
In my last post, I mentioned how Rwandans are very passive. They tend to be closed off and secretive. I'm no sociologist, but I believe this not only has to do with Rwanda's past genocide, but also to do with its geography. Rwanda is known as the Land of One Thousand Hills. And it's a fair description. All those hills make Rwanda difficult to travel through. A journey of just a couple of dozen kilometers can take several hours. It would take an entire day to travel from east to west without stopping. This terrain has made Rwanda pretty secluded from its neighbors. This is why I think Rwandans, despite being very communal, can also be very passive and closed off.
So what does this have to do with lying? Privacy. Rwanda contains 11 million people all living within a space the size of Maryland. It has one of the highest population densities in Africa. And it can be seen; not only on the streets of Kigali, but even in the countryside. It's nearly impossible to find a hill that isn't being cultivated or used to grow trees for fuel. I have wandered through the hills near my village, thinking I was alone, but every five minutes ran into children out searching for firewood.
The lying in Rwanda is usually not capricious. It is a mechanism that is used to be evasive, especially when asked personal questions. "Where are you going?" "Nowhere." "What do you have?" "Nothing." In a village where everyone knows your every move, there has to be some way to create a hedge of privacy. But it doesn't end with being vague. I have heard people make completely false statements about themselves and others in order to create a perception that they want others to take on. The secretary at my school, for example, tells other people that I have a lot of money and many girlfriends, despite the fact that I constantly refute both claims and there is no evidence to support either.
Concerns over privacy are why I'm thankful for the latest development in my Peace Corps service: I got a house! And my crib is ballin'. I already feel more motivated to work hard and I feel more rested and at ease with the increased privacy that I have compared to my former location within the school gates. I will put up photos soon so you all can see how sweet my house is (despite the lack of furniture). Until next time, amahoro.