Thursday, February 03, 2011

Joys of greeting

How nice it is to take the walk to work in the early morning, greeting everyone that I meet! The first Setswana "lesson" that Richard and I did was a review of the greetings so I am taking every opportunity to practice. While the basic beginning greeting is the same ("dumela" to one person or "dumelang" to more than one), there is a variety of things that can be said after that. The challenge is to recognize quickly which potential response has been used and react appropriately. It's easier if I greet first because, by starting the chain reaction, I get to choose what comes after the basic "dumela". The challenge with starting is that I need to know what comes after the "dumela". I can't just say "dumela"; I have to indicate who the person is that I'm greeting. If I know their name (which I don't for the people that I meet on the path in Kang), I can say it. If not, I have to say "mma" to a woman, "rra" to a man, "bomma" to multiple women, "borra" to multiple men, "mma le rra" to a woman with a man, "borra le mma" to a woman walking with two men, etc. You get the idea. I can usually pick out gender from a distance because women are mostly wearing skirts. The only challenge that I regularly have on my route are the trash collectors; they are occasionally mixed gender and wearing coveralls with neutral hats.

At any rate, it seems that I am one of few foreigners who greet around here because, while a smile usually accompanies the "dumela" response, surprise often does as well. The people en route to the Rudowskes' place are beginning to expect me these days as my schedule is regular. This is not so much true in the center of the village. The looks there are often ones of confusion, as if they can't reconcile my use of Setswana with my face. Still, the vast majority smile in a friendly fashion and we are both enriched. I arrive at the Rudowskes for my Setswana lesson light-hearted and raring to go.

There is a saying here, "Madume ga a jewe." - Greetings are not eaten. True, but they can be food for the soul.

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