In late December 2008, Kenya held presidential elections. The results were delayed, tension mounted, when one candidate was named the winner in an unusual way, violence started. We were there. We could hear gunshots, see people running in the streets. We hunkered down and waited it out. Hundreds died. People were displaced. Property losses where huge. It took it about 10 days to run its course while we stayed safely locked inside for the most part. Then it was safe again. Read a fuller report here.
We did not expect trouble. Neither did Kenyans who thought their country was a step above the kind of election troubles seen in some other countries in Africa. We were relieved when it ended, but they were disheartened. Their pride in their country had been brought low.
We resumed work shortly after New Years. On the first day, one of my Kenyan colleagues greeted me with a New Year’s greeting I had never heard before: Happy New Year Regardless.
Regardless means “despite the prevailing circumstances”. So, whatever situation, may the Lord be with you in 2014 with his loving and comforting presence. In other words:
Burkina Faso Village
When we lived in Burkina Faso in the Cerma language, we learned that the greeting for someone you had not seen for some time or someone who had traveled some distance to come see you was “What’s the news?” Whether you had some news or not, the proper response was “No news”, because “news” was by default “bad news”. Even if there was bad news, you still responded “No news”. Then after a while you would say, “Well, there is news after all”, and go on to give the “news”. The news could be the announcement a death in the family or some other tragic event.
If this sounds strange, let me ask you a question. When someone asks “How are you?”, don’t you respond with “Fine” even if everything is not really fine? The response “No news” is really no different. In fact, it might be more honest as everyone knows that “No news” is always the first response and any news will come out later. The response “Fine” carries no such guarantee of future clarification.
Ed learning language, 1978
There are other similarities.We say “No news is good news”. Also, we might ask someone “What’s up?” which has the same intent as the Burkina Faso question “What’s the news.”
The longer I work across cultures, the more I realize that a lot of the really strange things in other cultures are not really all that strange. In fact, under the differences, we human beings are all very much the same.
If you liked this, you might also like Small Differences, Ghanaisms, or Passing the Purse.
Ghana in Africa
I have been told that a study conducted in the United States found that one of the most frequent reasons given for not attending church is the fear of being asked to stand and be recognized.
If you come to Ghana and go to church, you might be asked to stand. What’s more, you might even be invited to go to the front and say something.
That’s what happened at a church I attended in Tamale. Along with other visitors, I went to the front, faced the congregation, where I was invited to explain who I was and why I was in their town.
Unity Presbyterian Church, Tamale
Mortifying? Well, a bit uncomfortable. The others introducing themselves were Ghanaian. They seemed to welcome the opportunity. The congregation looked interested in their stories and the greetings they brought from churches in other parts of Ghana. I was seeing the “church” as a nation-wide, even international, community of believers.
If that study were done here, it might show that people prefer to visit a church where they will be asked to stand and say something.