Saturday, March 31, 2012

Salutations! The Sudanese Way!

Greetings and salutations are a characteristic part of most cultures and generations. In Sudan, things are no different.

When we were in school, girls would greet each other with three kisses on the cheeks. Mwah, mwah, mwah in the air and outer cheek, every morning of every day, alternating sides. As our generation got older, you had to make sure to avoid lipstick stains and mussed hair, after a particularly enthusiastic greeting.

Male cousins and family were greeted with a pat on the shoulder, before the hand shake. The angle you lean in for the pat, and the length of the greeting was directly proportional to how close you were to the male in question. For non-relatives/male friends, the pat was short, but resounding, and socially acceptable. At one point, our esteemed government in one of its sporadic attempts to influence social behavior, and turn our largely African social norms towards others deemed more "Islamic", introduced a “sketch” that reflected that this amounted to too much physical contact and people should stick with the handshakes. Not sure it worked.

As we grew older, some males forewent the shoulder-pat-cum-bear-hug and some of both genders stopped shaking hands with members of the opposite sex. I’m still going strong. What difference does it make, really? To humor my OCD, I just scrub my hands extra hard before partaking of any meal.

Back to the air kisses.

At some point in time, Sudanese women collectively decided that three kisses take up too much time. A new greeting was introduced that combined elements of all the above. Today, when adult females greet each other in Sudan, it is with a single kiss, on the same side as the bear hug, thus saving a lot of time and avoiding the occasional accident where lips met in mid exchange, causing a moment of awkwardness. I approve of this method. Enthusiasm is duly conveyed, with minimal risk.

It is amusing to see the moment of confusion, when Sudanese come home, after a prolonged period. They are not aware of the single kiss express salutation and try to switch to mwah the other cheek, while the locals who have forgotten this obsolete greeting, are not sure what is going on. Am I holding too hard? Has my greeting gone on for too long? Do I smell? *facepalm* A few weeks into their stay, they get with it. No harm, no foul.

Things were different back in my grandmother’s day. Her generation kissed on the neck. This was a multiple threat, because they inhaled loudly as they planted the resounding kiss, making a clucking noise. Sudan is hot, people sweat, making this form of greeting as uncomfortable as it is unpleasant and embarrassing. While this action was taking place, your upper arm was squeezed until the tears came. I kid you not. I always wondered at this strength test. Was it to gauge whether you were well fed? If you would flinch? I have no answer to these questions. While you were being smelled and squeezed – wait a minute, it really is called, quite literally, “Smelled”. Our elders would say, “Come let me smell you” ("t3aali annashummik") which is equivalent to the American granny saying, “Come give Nana a kiss”. Okay, while you were being smelled and squeezed, a barrage of stock phrases and questions were being repeated and echoed, while no one listened to the other. I can attest to this fact. I used to answer with “I’m awful. Life sucks. Who are you, again?” and the litany would go on and on. Never to stop.

As a matter of fact, after everyone was seated, someone might get up and start it all over again! This provides for a lot of entertainment when family comes over from out of town, and at this point in our lives, we chime in with gusto. Squeezing and reciting with the best of them.
Allah ysallimik. Allah ybaarik feek. Allah ysallimik. Awlaadik. Allah ysallimik. Taybeen. Allah ybaarik feek. Keifkum kadi. Allah ysallimik. Ybaarik feek. Taslami. Allah ysallimikJ

So, the way you greet your family and friends pinpoints your generation and associations, at a glance.

Sudanese are a lot of things, but they are very rarely boring.

(Photo link: )


1 comment:

Tagreed Abdin said...

After posting this, I realized that I only kiss my boys on the neck, so I need to offer my late granny an apology. Sorry, 7aboba! A3fi leina.