In South Africa, people greet one another as they pass by even if they don’t know each other. When passing, one person says, “Sikhona,” meaning “I am here to be seen,” and the other responds, “Sawubona,” meaning “I see you.”
Think about that:
“I am here to be seen.”
“I see you.”
How many people do we go by every day that we never really see?
I used to think that this type of fleeting small talk was superficial. I didn’t see the value in “Hi, how are you?” and “I’m good, thanks. And you?” And the weather, I never understood why people felt the need to say “beautiful day out” or “gosh, this rain sure can stop anytime.”
The Zulu believe the formal exchange of a greeting invokes a person’s spirit to fully inhabit the moment. “I am here to be seen” means “this is who I am and I will speak honestly, without deception.” “I see you,” is an affirmation that the person responding will let go of any preconceptions or judgements and see that person just as they are.
Yesterday morning, when I was out walking the dogs, a man walked past me and said hello. I said good morning back. He stopped walking, turned to me and said “what a beautiful day today.” It was pretty dreary and wet outside and that’s what I had thought about when I stepped outside with dogs. But this man was on to something–the air was crisp and cool but not too cold, the orange and red leaves of the turning trees glistened from a night of heavy rain.
I responded to the man “you’re right, we are lucky to have such a lovely morning.” He said he had just moved from New York City to take care of his aging mother and that back in the city, he missed seeing such a lovely fall. In all, our conversation lasted less than a minute. I couldn’t help but feel more aware; more alive, as I walked back to the house with the dogs.
When we greet another person; when we say hello, ask how they are doing and even comment on the weather, we are acknowledging that we see one another. It doesn’t matter that we know nothing about the person we’re speaking to and even that we will possibly never see or interact with them again. At that moment, we are affirming that we both exist, we are both equal, and we will give each other the mutual respect we should always give others.
The Zulu would say that greetings “bring each other into existence.” They are a reminder that in the unpredictable of often painful struggles of life and of death, none of us is in this alone.
Sawubona, my friends–welcome to this important day, I see you.
Photo Cred: Antonio Fidalgo