Tanzanians, and I’ve heard other Africans, take greetings very seriously. I’ve talked about how kind the people are here. And, now three times, people have taken me by the hand and shown me to my destination when I was lost. Kind of like when Julia Roberts tells Richard Gere, “For $20, I show you personally.” Only no one here expects payment. And I’m not a rich businessman getting involved with a beautiful hooker. You get the point.

But the greetings situation is extraordinary. Pretty much everyone greets everyone, not just when you get to work or a social setting, but on the way to work, in the market, everywhere. It has happened several times that when I am walking to or from work, people who do or don’t know me, walk all the way with me so we can chat, even when they are headed elsewhere. (Chatting may be a stretch, what with my limited Swahili.)

There are many different greetings so it can be confusing. “Jambo” is really only for tourists. Mostly people say one of a few main greetings: “Salama?” which means “Are you in peace?” and you say it back which means you are in peace. Or “Habari?” which means “How is it going,” basically. But there are lots of variations- “Habari za asubuhi” means “How is your morning?”;  habari with “za mchana” (afternoon); “za jioni” (evening);  “za kazi” (work.) The best thing is that you can say “Nzuri” to all of those, and it means “Good!” If you are very familiar with someone, they might say, “Mambo,” and you would say “Poa.” There is a special greeting reserved for the elderly, ”Shikamoo,” which requires the response, “Marahaba.” I get it a lot. It’s a sign of respect here so I’m trying to let it go. Plus I read somewhere that you always look older in the Southern Hemisphere.

Which all leads me to think once again, what are we so busy doing at home that we can’t take a few moments to greet people? Sometimes we even have people at work we hope Not to bump into first thing, because it would be a delay from getting straight to work. Here, when people get to work, they spend a few minutes really talking to others, asking details of the evening before, of their families, of how the really feel. What a gift to give that few moments of genuine concern to everyone, not just the people you really like. Have you ever seen someone in the grocery and intentionally went the other way so you wouldn’t have to talk to them because it might take 4 minutes? What are we so busy doing? I know there are people who are far busier than I, but still, are we THAT busy?

We do have a Swahili Quiz today!  What does Salamu mean?

(PS- Just for the record, I made up that fact about looking older in the Southern Hemisphere. It could be true though. I’ll look it up and get back to you.)

This entry was posted in Greeting your elders, Language, Travel and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Greetings!

  1. erik greenbaum says:

    I always love it when we walk into the village and everyone says karibu, which I think (hope!) means “welcome”…..and the really mean it!! What wonderful people. Thanks for reminding us just how true that is!

    Salamu = greetings?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. jccrosby2014 says:

    Salamu= greetings you are right- but second. Well done though!


  3. Charlcie Fielding says:

    ok. this introvert will put forth effort today. Thank you for the reminder. God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Maggie O'C says:

    Jude, you have finally found the perfect country for you! You are prone to talking to strangers anyway. Going to reblog this. It made me happy. I love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Maggie O'C says:

    Reblogged this on Dear Judy…Letters to Tanzania and commented:
    Dear Judy,
    I’m reblogging your post today. Reading it gave me a big smile. I’m always telling you not to engage with strangers (especially in bars) but now you have found the perfect country for doing just that! I hope you are happy over there.
    Love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Jim Crosby says:

    No no no….your are in the SOUTHERN hemisphere, so it means YOUNGER person!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Mark Ratzlaff says:


    Liked by 1 person

  8. Nick Smith says:

    Yes, take the time, even for those who you may feel are exasperating! It is a gift to them to be acknowledged and speaks to your connection with all the world. We all need to slow down and savor the delight of actually being connected to others.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s