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Think Global, Act Local: My Favorite Universal Languages


Photo by Hillary Ehlen

“How many languages do you speak? Is it hard to learn a new language?” Many questions I have heard from friends and people that were intrigued by the audible experience of my exotic accent.

In a time where media, politics and thought leaders are skeptical and pessimistic about our society, I can only think of the wise words of James Baldwin: “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter.”

One must know today is better than ever and tomorrow is radiant. Technology is rapidly growing, we are e-connected more than ever but foremost our cities are getting richer because of the increasing cultural diversity. You just must choose wisely what kind and where you get your information on the status of our Mother Earth.

How do you embrace this rapid change? How can you navigate smoothly in society? You must equip yourself with versatile societal human tools called: Universal languages.

Unlike Kinyarwanda, Spanish, French or English that are spoken in specific regions, universal languages can be used anywhere you go with anyone you meet.

Here are my seven favorite Universal Languages headlined in KinyaRwanda.

1. Ndakubona (“I see you”)

This is the simple act of acknowledging someone’s presence whenever entering a room or large gathering. By doing so, you recognize the other person’s presence. It is simple, but believe me, it goes a long way, specifically when the person is not the center of attention.

2. Murakoze cyane (“You have done well”)

Always being grateful for someone’s service, generosity and mostly when the person’s service is taken for granted. I have seen myself going around at the end of a large community gathering and thanking the band for their melodious act, thanking the staff for their world-class hospitality or simply thanking someone for an enriching conversation. Being grateful for someone else’s contribution to your wellbeing, in general, is paramount.

3. Guseka (“Smile”)

This human facial reflex is the most elegant, hopeful, inspiring and contagious emotional attire one should always wear. This is the most humanizing act you can use anywhere you go.

“If you smile at life, life will smile back at you” is my daily philosophy and practice.

4. Ubuntu (“I am because You are”)

This philosophy is dear to the Bantu people in sub-equatorial Africa. It is the belief that you feel the pain, joy, shame and pride that your fellow neighbor feels, therefore, your human experience is intertwined. To be compassionate to each other in our society is a must otherwise we risk to become desensitized.

5. Uli Igitangaza (“You are Amazing”)

Complimenting someone whenever they do something praiseworthy. The validation of someone’s accomplishment or attitude goes a long way. On the surface, it might seem like it was done painlessly but this is the tip of the iceberg of the continued effort culminating in this glorious moment.

6. Ikaze iwacu, mulisanga (“Welcome home, feel at home”)

Hospitality without borders, radical inclusivity to the conversation, to your home, to your circles is important because we can get caught in our comfort bubbles forgetting people “stuck” on the outside of our unperceived created bubbles. Always be on the lookout of your diction and body language whenever welcoming someone.

My mom once told me that you have be the best host possible so that when leaving, your guest says: “I am looking forward to coming back to your home.” Now in our case, we can switch the word “home” with “conversation” or “group of friends”.

7. Urukundo (“Love”)

“If humans can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the humans heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela

This is a firmly held belief that we are wired to love each other rather than fear each other. Whenever encountering someone, if you do or say something out of love — regardless of the act or the word — the other will be more inclined to receive it positively.


These are my seven favorite ways of communicating with people and I hope that you see the difference between Universal/ Human languages (uniting and inclusive) versus National dialects (divisive and exclusive).

I want to take this opportunity to thank from the bottom of my heart all the people that make me feel safe, welcomed and supported in the Red River Valley: first respondents, public servants, teachers, mentors, refugees, neighbors, international students, visitors and beloved friends aka my chosen family.

Dr. Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Alexandre Cyusa

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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