Habari yako? – your news? Habari za familia? – news of your family? Habari za leo? – news of your day. Za kazi? – of work? Za safari – of your journey? And it goes on. When will the questions end?
You are in Kenya, negotiating an oil concession. You don’t have time for these extended niceties. And, anyway, you don’t know how to respond. In a hurry, you move on to business, ignoring the bafflement on the ministry official’s face.
As you leave, your host walks you to the car park. He takes your hand in his and won’t let go. This is unexpected. You withdraw your hand, as tactfully as possible. Your host again looks offended.
Your driver talks incessantly about “tribes”. Why the obsession? Who cares about a person’s background? What relevance is it to an oil company in Kenya? This sounds like prejudice to your ears.
A policeman pulls you over and leans into the passenger side window. “Habari?”, he smiles. Here we go again – but he quickly gets to the point. He’d like a “soda”, or some “chai”. Why is he telling you? Your driver is nervous,– he hands the policeman something and whispers “I will add it to the fare”. Has something wrong just happened?
In your hotel room, you relax – until the phone rings. The man who sold you air-time on the street this morning has just come by to “greet you”. Habari! How does he know where you are staying? What does he want? How do you respond?
You haven’t made time to see the baby elephants or the giraffe centre on the outskirts of town. Or to visit the new Caramel Restaurant that everyone was talking about. Despite this, you were pleased to leave Nairobi. The problem is that the man from the ministry now refuses to take your calls. Maybe you should have held his hand?
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