How many times a day I hear this phrase is astounding. Sure, I walk up and down the streets of Stone Town and “Karibu” is hollered in my direction by shop keepers of all sorts with some common misunderstanding that just because I am white all I am looking to do is shop, shop, shop until I drop. A simple “asante sana” (thank you very much), a brisk walk, and a gaze turned directly ahead will usually halt the hollers long enough for me to pass and move onto the next group of shops where the process once again repeats itself.
However, thankfully, this view of welcoming hospitality is also shared by the people I actually want to continue a conversation with, people I thoroughly appreciate being welcomed by. If you ever make your way to Zanzibar, the very first pieces of Swahili you should learn are the greetings. Knowing how to properly greet someone here, especially someone who is your elder, is of the utmost importance. After living here for almost three months I think I have finally got this down. Let me tell you, people here absolutely LOVE it when a “mzungu” (white person) can greet them properly and respectfully in their own language. These phrases have been the most useful out of anything I have learned here. If you come here, just learn them okay? Trust me!
List of most proper greeting with best responses listed below:
*”Shikamoo” (Respectful greeting to an elder)
*”Salaam Alaikum” (Peace be with you)
*Alaikum Salaam (And also peace be with you)
*”Hujambo?” (There is nothing wrong with you?)
*Sijambo (There is nothing wrong with me)
*Habari? Harbari za leo? (What is the news?/What is the news of the day)
*Nzuri na wewe? (good/nice/swell/etc. and you?)
There are more than these four greetings (probably an almost endless list) but if you learn these and their proper responses, you are golden in Zanzibar. People will still call you “mzungu” but maybe you will be upgraded to “swahili mzungu”. Congratulations!
Anyway, with these phrases finally tucked securely under my belt, I was more than prepared to venture off into the not all the wild small urban city of Stone Town and give this independent study by best shot. Once I properly greet someone and explain how I am a student studying coconuts, I am most always warmly welcomed into their home. I have made friends with many older women as I ask them my questions about cooking with coconuts while sitting comfortably in their living room after being told to make myself at home. This is all just minutes after meeting them. I have cooked with a few families now and they treat me as if I was part of their family and always have been. The women smile at me warmly and the head of both houses gave me a kanga to borrow and wear around my waist (a piece of traditional Zanzibari cloth that is used as clothing or as a headscarf) so that my clothing would not become dirty while cooking.
Hospitality. Hospitality. Hospitality.
I am not used to this concept from living in America. Sure, most everyone I know is welcoming of me into their homes but the key is that I already know them. These people are my family, or very good friends. I know there are programs such as couch surfer but the majority of people I know would not welcome a complete stranger into their home and then on top of everything offer them a delicious cup of chai. Walking around a city in America, walking up to the doors of strangers, and greeting them with a warm welcome would leave me solely with weird looks or with the resident of said house purposefully walking out of direct sight as to pretend as if they were not home.
Doing this kind of research in America would be next to impossible. Good thing I am in Zanzibar.
Okay, I am now off to the market to buy bananas, spinach, and coconuts to cook for dinner with my sister!
Does this post make you want to be a more welcoming person? Let me know of experiences when you have welcomed someone into your home or into your heart!