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  • Keith Scott

The words we speak

Burundi has one main language, Kirundi. Wherever anyone goes in Burundi everyone speaks Kirundi. This makes it very different from many African countries which are made up of many ethnic groups speaking a huge variety of languages, bound together by one, usually colonial era, language.


Because Burundi was also a Belgian colony, at least from 1918, the urban centers are also French speaking. There is almost no English spoken anywhere, outside BCU, where I have been working.

In the mornings and evenings, when I meet with the others who are staying in the guest house, I have to struggle to express myself in French. Something I haven’t had to do for over thirty years. With the help of a well-known on-line language learning course I have been slowly improving, although my French is still a broken and confused mess.



So it has been strange over the last few days to meet up with Roger Thompson, who stayed over one weekend. We went to visit Alison and Paul Guinness on the Sunday Afternoon. Next Johnny and Emily Lowden stayed two nights here in Bujumbura. They, together with Roger, had been visiting Matana Diocese. It was truly strange to speak English for most of four days. I keep having to stop and remind myself that I did not need to try and formulate some vaguely comprehensible French to contribute to the conversation.


I am pretty sure that two things are going to happen when I get back to Armagh. One will be to get into the wrong side of the car and the other is to walk into a shop and, without thinking, ask for something in French.



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