How are you?

One morning this week, after daily Mass, I was hurrying to get back to the house in time to finish getting ready for work. Instead of giving individual greetings to each member of the community as I normally do, I said a general good morning to everyone. Later in the morning, Br. Luigi teasingly told me that he was mad at me because I hadn’t said good morning to him. I realized that because I hadn’t greeted him separately, I had not in fact actually greeted him. Whereas in America a communal greeting is perfectly acceptable, here it is not sufficient and in some situations may even be considered rude.

During our time here, I have come to appreciate the culture of greeting others. Anytime you see a person, even in passing, you should take the time to greet him or her. There are different forms of greeting depending on the time of the day and whether or not you have already seen that person during the day. These greetings are all some variation of ‘How are you?’

Sometimes I might say to a student in English, “Good Morning” and he or she will reply back, “I am fine and how are you?” This happens because in Chichewa all greetings require a response as to how the person is. In addition to this, in the mornings, you add an additional question, “Kwacha kunyumba?” literally, “how is the house now that the sun has risen?” In order to answer this question, the person must speak to how the family and even the home is. To me this is an excellent tradition and means of truly caring for those around you.

Oftentimes, a person might reply to the first greeting, “I am well.” But then, for instance, in the second question it comes out that all is well except one child has come down with malaria. One morning, when greeting our nanny, she told me that all was well. When I asked her ‘kwacha kunyumba’ she replied that everything was fine except that she had been robbed.

If you think about it, a more reserved person upon a first greeting is rarely going to regale you with the woes of the day. But when asked a second time in a slightly different way, a person can hardly avoid sharing troubles. In this way, something that might have been kept quiet so as not to burden another now is brought into the open. Once revealed, one has an opportunity to assist or at least empathize with the person experiencing troubles forcing the community to care for one another. And so, I am grateful, that here in Malawi, I have learned how to greet others again and again and again.

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