22 October 2009

A skill my parents didn't teach me

My parents were good parents, possibly exceptionally good parents. I am thankful for what they did for me.

However, they did not teach me to greet people, including to greet themselves. When we woke in the morning my family would get ready for the day (school, work, chores) but I don't ever recall saying hello to my parents or siblings. When someone returned home greetings were not exchanged. My parents didn't normally ask me how my day at school was. I thought that was normal. I don't recall seeing them greeting neighbors or strangers on a casual basis. They would talk to them, but not give short greetings. It wasn't that they didn't like them, or we were stuck up, it is more that relationships are too important to ask meaningless greetings.

(Yes, this does have something to do with bicycling, let me ramble first.)

When I went off to college I had a hard time for a few years whenever someone said (I interpreted as asked) " How are you?" I took it literally and was taken a back that someone wanted to know my situation. I would fidget and hem and haw, trying to think of something to say, and then later be a bit offended that they just passed on and didn't wait to hear how I was.

Yes it is kind of hard to believe but true. When I think about it I want to laugh, but it was frustrating for me at the time.

More than just at home I would never say hello to a stranger on the street, or when i met my friends we just started talking, there were no greetings.

So what does this have to do with bicycling?

Recently I discovered a trick while riding the bicycle (although it probably applies to life). I try to initiate a hello to people on the road or trail. If I say hello first then I have set the tone.
Expatriates in Arusha tend to get called "mzungu,mzungu" by kids and sometimes by adults when they are moving around Arusha. Mzungu means person of European descent. Being called that can drive you crazy. Whether it is intended to be derogatory or not gets forgotten, but a "Mzungu" tends to see it as negative, obnoxious, even insulting.

My theory is if I see a group of kids up ahead, and if I yell a greeting first, then maybe they wont call me mzungu, or ask for a pen. I have set the tone, I have shown respect, I have made them answer something besides "hey white man".

I often assume my fellow bicyclists don't want to have anything to do with me. If i say a meaningless greeting it can change the scene. Instead of brooding when a kid hammers past me and then cuts me off too soon, seems better all around if I yell "changamka" or "boya!" meaning "go man go".

I used to dread riding past teenage boys along major roads. You know that group loitering by the car wash place? Just maybe if I yell "Vipi vijana? Mambo?" (Hey kids, How's things?) It is alot harder for them to start yelling "mzungu mzungu, give me my pen."

Maybe just maybe this whole thing of people yelling "mzungu,mzungu" comes about because Europeans tend to pass by without greeting people.

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