Honor and respect are two deeply ingrained values of this culture. One of the ways this is constantly show is through the greeting for elders. When you meet an elder (literally just someone older than you) you are to greet them with the Swahili greeting of “Shikamoo” (she- kah- mo). This loosely translates to “I bow at your feet”. The response is “Marahaba” which is “I receive your honor/respect”.
At any given time, meeting an “older” friend, passing by the bibi (grandmother) on the street or sitting next to the older gentleman on the dala dala this greeting is expected. I have come to find it to be a beautiful thing.
One of the women I’ve come to know and be blessed by goes by Mama Musa (Musa being the name of her first born- more on this tradition later). When I arrive at Neema House generally she is one of the first adults I see and it is expected, and deserved, that I greet her firstly by saying “shikamoo mama” and then the greetings continue. I’ve noticed every day as I greet her a smile spreads across her face. It’s more than just a greeting.
When I am walking around town, I try to be friendly, especially to the older women, by greeting them with this greeting. It’s fun to see the shock on their faces from time to time as this mzungu (white person) has just used this greeting full of honor toward them. Then they always smile and respond, and continue the greetings. It’s just a small thing, but I love to be conscious of it.