Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Angella Chizimba
Malawi is well known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” because of its inclusive and welcoming culture. Thanks to my host Mother, I learned this Malawian spirit through greetings in Chitonga (a native language spoken in NkhataBay) the moment I arrived at my site. Greetings are an expression of people’s kindness and every encounter here involves a warm welcome and an inquiry of one’s wellbeing. Although I thought that I understood this concept before coming here, I was most definitely wrong. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming warmth I have experienced here.
After arriving at my site, I was excited and terrified at the same time. For the first time, I was going to be on my own in a new place. However, this move marked the first real time that I was going to live independently. In the Midst of my anxiety, I was lucky to meet my host mother, who made me feel at home. From the day I got to my site, she told me, “Don’t worry about language, you will learn.” I was not too sure then because I had no idea of how I would learn a new language and ease my communication with people, but hearing her say those words encouraged me to try my best.
My first day in the community, I took a walk in the beautiful streets of the community with my host mother. The people we met greeted us with “Mweuli Ama” or “Timuoneni Ama” (meaning ‘how are you?’ in chitonga). Since my host mother had already introduced me to the greeting etiquette, I was able to scramble myself into the beautiful “Yeo Mweuli” / or “teumampha Kwali imwe”…. (meaning “I am good and how are you?”) almost everyone I met screamed oh! niwachewa kodi?(meaning “Is she a Chewa?”) We laughed it out. My accent said it all; I was not of their tribe.
It is very rare to walk 10 feet without being greeted by someone here. Greetings are a representation of respect and recognition. After a week in the community, people were eager to know if I have mastered the greeting and they listened with keen interest. The smiles on people’s faces as I respond to their greetings are priceless. It tells me a lot of what it means to learn someone’s language or at least just a greeting.
I have learnt that the most important part about greetings is to do them anyway, errors can be forgiven, but it is always discourteous not to recognise the people you meet. It is an act of rudeness. Greetings set a positive tone, create a good first impression and build a good relationship with people. Language should not be a barrier, try whatever possible to learn a new language.