When Teacher Becomes Student

“Today, we are going to learn pronouns,” I announce to the students before me.

It’s my first time teaching at the MOC, a special session about writing. I’ve got to admit, I’m a little nervous, but I go with what I know and relay all of the tips that I’ve picked up as a writer over the last few years. After forty-five minutes of tools to make our writing smoother– namely transitional words and pronouns– we break for lunch and I breathe a sigh of relief that I didn’t freeze up and forget my lesson.

When lunch ends, I grab a notebook and pen and begin the 15-minute trek up the road through Musanze for a little learning of my own. Tucked away in a small row of buildings off the main road in Musanze is a 10×10 room filled with vibrant paintings and intricate sculptures. A zebra with brilliant black and white stripes and an oversized portrait of Paul Kagame in front of the Rwandan flag are just two of a dozen pieces that cover the walls, while sand-colored sculptures that swirl upward from the floor are all over the ground. The room is called ‘Volcanoes Arts’ and serves as a studio and shop for local artists Jean Pierre (John Peter) Masambuko and Jean d’amour (John of Love) Ntihemuka. It also serves as my own personal Kinyarwanda training center.

The first time I met Masambuko and Ntihemuka was by chance on a morning walk down the road. When Masambuko and I ran into each other and realized we shared a mutual enthusiasm for learning the other’s culture, we bonded instantly. His English is above average and my Kinyarwanda is sub-par; it’s a match made in heaven.

Masambuko, 23, and Ntihemuka, 22, opened up Volcanoes Arts in April 2012 after completing a 3-year education at Nyundo Art School an hour north in Gisenye. Although the boys desired a university-level education, Rwanda does not have a single art institute and the art section at Rwandan National University had already hit capacity when it came time for them apply. Hence, the five-day-a-week, hour-long drives to complete their studies.

Masambuko is the clear leader of the duo, an outgoing and charismatic “umugabo” (man) with a bright smile. Ntihemuka is softer with a passionate soul, always taking great care to describe the meaning behind his sculptures and paintings. Each of their pieces can take up to three weeks to complete, and yet they still find time to tutor me in Kinyarwanda every time I show up.

The three of us sit on the grassy hill outside of the studio that afternoon after my first MOC class, drawing curious glances as to what two Rwandan boys are doing with an “umuzungu” girl. As Masumbuko teaches, I try to write down everything he says. More often than not, the notebook and pen end up in his hands when I can’t keep up. We make side-by-side columns of English and Kinyarwanda and the groups of village children surrounding us giggle hysterically as I try to repeat “Ndi umunyamakuru” (“I am a journalist”) after Masumbuko. If “all is grace” and nothing is coincidence, my newly developed friendship with these two Rwandans is no exception.

“In one month, you will have full conversations,” Masambuko says. “So let’s get started.”

In slow cursive, he titles the page:


“Today,” he says with a grin, “We are going to learn pronouns.”

Volcanoes Arts!

Inside the studio!

Jean Pierre’s pronoun lesson.

One thought on “When Teacher Becomes Student

  1. […] are not only my Kinyarwanda tutors, but also my dear friends. (To read about them, check out this earlier post). We had a bit of trouble focusing on the camera, but we finally got a good one Jean […]

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