When I started working in Malawi, I didn’t understand why everyone needed to constantly greet everyone else in the office.
A colleague would walk in, go to EACH PERSON’s desk to ask ‘Mwadzuka Bwanji?’ (have you woken up well?), to which each person would reply ‘Ndadzuka bwino, kaya inu?’ (yes, I have woken well, and yourself?), the greeter would reply that they had also woken up well, before moving on to the next person. At first, this seemed like a whole-lotta o’ hoopla, and I failed to understand the importance of the ritual.
The Malawian morning greeting tradition is very different than in Canada where I would walk into work and say a quick hello to the group before turning on the computer and getting to work.
In Malawi, walking past people and starting work without greetings is unthinkable.
Greetings are a very important part of Malawian culture. For many, the greeting is more important than anything that is discussed after. To not acknowledge a fellow human being in your vicinity is an abomination.
If there is someone (Malawian) that I have never met before, I make sure to greet them properly – extend my hand, put my other hand to my elbow (done to show respect and demonstrate that you are not hiding anything) and then bend my knees and bob down slightly (also a sign of respect).
There are many different types of greetings. One for meeting someone new or who you haven't seen in a number of days, another for the morning if you have seen the person recently, one for the afternoon or if you have already greeted the person that day, informal greetings, questions as greetings... My first pages of the Chichewa book are all about greeting and acknowledge your fellow human beings!
After being here for 6 months, I have wholeheartedly embraced this tradition. If someone fails to greet me, it actually hurts my feelings. Yes folks, I have adapted. I don’t want to hurt anyone else’s feelings, so I take my time and acknowledge people with a smile and a greeting.