Greetings

If I am walking down the street in the US and happen to see someone I know, I either try to avoid making eye contact so as not have to say anything or give a quick head nod and a, "Hey." If I am feeling friendly I might throw in a "What's up?" But after having done my small duty, continue on my way.

A typical exchange on the street here would go like this:
(This local language is called Kabye. I am also writing everything out phonetically as there are letters used that we don't have in English)

Person 1: Un-la-waa lay (Good morning)
Person 2: Yaa. Alafia. (Yes, it is good.)
Person 1: Alafia way? (How are you?)
Person 2: Alafia. (Fine.)
Person 1: Toe-mee-ai yo? (How's your work?)
Person 2: Alafia. (Fine.)
Person 1: Halow yo? (How's your wife?)
(Note: If the person has two or more wives, not uncommon, you would say, "Pay-way Alafia?")
Person 2: Alafia. (Fine.)
Person 1: Pia yo? (And your children?)
Person 2: Alafia. (Fine.)
Person 1: Plab-tassi. (See you later.)
Person 2: Plab-tassi. (See you later.)

Along with this exchange both people slightly squat down, putting their hands on their knees in a sign of respect. I have seen women carrying huge bowls filled with vegetables on their head squat down without even thinking about it. In the local language of my city, Kotokoli, towards the end of that exchange both people make a sort of grunting sound back and forth. Just a little "mm" or "ungh." They go back and forth grunting for sometimes upwards of 10 seconds.

(After all other greetings)
Person 1: Ungh
Person 2: Unn
Person 1: Ungh
Person 2: Unn
Person 1: Ungh
Person 2: Unn
Person 1: Ungh
Person 2: Unn

Its almost musical, kind of like a song being passed back and forth.

I have asked many people why they do that. The only response I get is, "That's just part of it." It's such an interesting way to greet someone, seemingly not saying anything. But that's just how it's done.

Sometimes in Kabye after all the questions the person being asked will shake his hands back and forth and go, "Ya ya ya ya ya." That basically just means, "Everythings great."

There is something about the idea of asking about someone's life that I really like. While it does get a little old to be asked about my work 10 times a day, it is still nice to know that that human contact is there. This is a culture that values the relationship between people.

ps. Sorry I havnt posted in a long long time. I spent a wonderful Christmas at home with my family and am just now getting back.

12 comments:

Gary said...

I hope to be in Togo with you in October and I absolutely want to hear the grunting thing you mentioned as a part of a greeting between two people. Perhaps I should incorporate it in some aspect of my life, like maybe in visa interviews. Yes, Christmas was sweet. Next time you're here, we cook the garlic studded leg of lamb EARLY in your visit. Eric and I have it down. It's even better the next day in fresh pita with fresh humus and tahina.

Lindsay said...

UNGH! That sounds facinating!

Keep sharing whenever you can! You are a great writer! Shooot! ;-)

Global Jim goes to China said...

Nice Blog...Looks like Africa is an interesting place. I'm just getting used to the food here in China...You know,meat on a stick and all.
Jim

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