Friendliness, smiling faces and fist-bumps in Raja

Raja is such a nice place to live.

Walking from our house to the office its lots of ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine’ and ‘Good morning’ (in the afternoon) and ‘Kef?’ and ‘Tammam’ and children asking ‘what is my name?’ and us saying ‘I don’t know your name. Do you want me to guess?’

The kids are great. There are the ones that we see daily who live on the main route between our office and house- like the group of kids that used to run out into the road and demand to be picked up because one of us did that once. That’s the same compound where the kids started screaming, ‘you! you! you!’. I think their mom scolded them though because they don’t run into the road anymore and aren’t as vocal as they once were. Or maybe the magic of our charcoal-ironed MSF T-shirts has worn off for the kids that see us everyday.

Actually that’s true. When I take a different route or end up walking on a path that is new to me, there’s definitely a lot more enthusiasm and even astonishment at our mere presence. We’re more of a novelty off of the beaten path.

Some kids are too shy to reply. Others were clearly paying attention in their English classes. Mostly kids like to shout ‘how are you’. Today as we were moving by car through our neighborhood, we encountered two groups of kids, acting entirely independently, singing or chanting ‘how are you’ over and over again. They weren’t even listening to my reply.

Handshaking is all the rage here, but I’ve become an unlikely advocate of the fist-bump. I don’t do it at home, but for some reason it just seems to be what I need to do here. Why? First of all, if you shake the hands of two or three kids on your way to work, you’re going to get a bit of rice or something wet on there. So I’m saving time on hand washing. Next, people are already sending their hand in for the shake, they look down and ‘what’s this? he’s balled up his fist? but how can I shake it?’ and they have no choice but to reciprocate the gesture.

But the best part is that the fist-bump amazes people and is a cause for laughter and enjoyment. They love this new form of greeting that’s different from the one that they’re accustomed to but not so different as to be unrecognizable. Lots of the national staff at the hospital, the office and the house have taken to the bump too. Again it’s some novelty that the foreigner brings to Raja.

I tried giving fives and high-fives but this ended badly, not tragically but it didn’t go nearly as well as the fist-bump. A few kids loved it. A few kids thought I was trying to hurt them. A few mothers thought that I was trying to hurt their children and they thought that that was hilarious. I thought that the mother’s thoughts were funny too, but overall it wasn’t funny at all.

What I’m trying to get at here is that people in Raja are friendly and it’s a pleasure to continually greet them on our roads and pathways. I get greeted by and do more greeting of strangers here than anywhere I’ve ever been before. I’m fine by the way.

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3 Responses to Friendliness, smiling faces and fist-bumps in Raja

  1. Julie says:

    amusing post emmett! isn’t it funny how quickly you get used to the pointing, staring, and incessant shouting of “how are you?” or “khawaja, khawaja”…after a while you start craving anonymity and the novelty of walking down a street where no one pays any attention to you at all. i went for a run one morning near wau and, by the end, had a group of about 10 school kids all decked out in their lovely blue uniforms jogging alongside – i think seeing the crazy white girl aimlessy running around getting covered in dust was probably the highlight of their day!

  2. Lisa says:

    Hi Emmett-

    What a great blog post! I’d love to visit Raja! I’m curious, I have a background in public health/worked at the CDC, and I’m hoping to break into international development/disaster response. I’m planning to get my foot in the door by volunteering in Tanzania; I’m wondering, do you have any connections, or input you could provide me, about how to break in? Thanks Emmett- in advance, for your time.

  3. vertet arlette says:

    My son, Damien, was logistician @ Aweil between Juanary and June 2010. It was his first experience for MSF and after 14 months in Isles Kerguelen (near Antarctic). 6 months were enough for him lol. Since, he made 6 months in the south of Madagascar and has just begun its 6 months in New Guinea. Good luck from Damien and me :)