I mentioned in the last post how important greetings are to Tanzanian culture, here I am again to delve deeper into the subject matter.
The first day of Swahili class, we spent the full 2 hours learning one thing – Swahili Greetings. Here are just a few combos you can choose to use in a normal conversational situation:
A: Jambo! (Hi!)
B: Jambo! (Hi!)
A: Mambo! (How’s it going?)
B: Poa! (Cool!)
A: Hujambo? (Any problem?)
B: Sijambo! (No problem!)
A: Umelalaje? (How did you sleep?)
B: Safi sana. (Very well)
A: Salama? (Well?)
B: Salama. (Well.)
A: Shikamoo (I give you respect) – Used when greeting someone elder.
B: Marahaba (I accept your repect)
A: Habari za asubuhi? (How’s the morning?)
B: Nzuri sana (Very well.)
You get the idea.
*Thus, if there is one piece of advice I want to give to those going to Tanzania, is to make sure you learn a few greetings before hand. It will help you get through your TZ trip much better, I assure you. (of course, given that you will apply what you learn)
Honestly, I have always grown up in cultures where greeting is just a way to show politeness and then you move on to the next topic.
I have always been taught to bow to teachers at school, so I still have the tendency to bow to those I respect/people I meet for the first time. But doing a full out, elaborate greeting is my first.
As our Swahili teacher Godson (I know, very cool name, right?) told us once, Tanzanians are “people-oriented,” not “time-oriented.” It is woven into their culture that caring about those you meet comes before hurrying and doing other things. As one of the most famous Tanzania proverb goes: “Haraka haraka, haina baraka” – hurry hurry has no good outcomes. One must take time to greet and talk to those you meet – be it on the streets, at a restaurant, before you get on the dollar dollar…
And in fact, these greetings are great introduction/conversation starters (at least for people like me who have trouble talking to people I don’t know for an extended period of time). They help set a welcoming tone between the two people and it’s good way to start learning more about the person. (Like by asking, how’s your family? You can extend to asking, do you have siblings/children? Etc)
Here comes the word “Karibu.”
It means “welcome!” And you always reply with “asante” (thank you).
As some of my fellow group mates pointed out, in America or a lot of highly commercialized places, “Welcome” can simply be a word that thrown around and used for granted. When shop owners say “Welcome,” it’s just a habit of making you feel at ease. When you say “you’re welcome” after someone saying “thank you,” it’s just there to fill the moment of silence.
But Karibu seems to mean so much more here.
When mama says Karibu the moment you step into the shop or when the headmistress says Karibu when she welcomes you to her school, you know that they mean it. I find it very heart-warming when Afasia holds my hand and walk me around. It also warms my heart when my afterschool kids come running over and hug me because they didn’t see me for a week.
After being here for a month, I am just grateful for how nice and helpful and accepting some Tanzanians can be. This includes our “father” Pelle, our “uncle” (best driver on earth) Justin, our best rafiki Sabatian, headmistress Afasia, our service apartment ladies Alice and Fatina just to name a few.
And if nothing else, always remember that in Tanzania you’re always “Karibu tena” - welcome back!