Karibu is the Kiswahili word for ‘welcome’ and it is a word that I have heard frequently over the past week. “Karibu Tanzania” (welcome to Tanzania) is a popular refrain around the hotel and in shops and restaurants.
I started work at the legal aid centre this past Monday and the greeting was used over and over again as I was introduced to the other lawyers and staff to mean, “you are welcome here”.
Each work day also starts with a series of intricate greetings, which are important in Tanzanian culture and which I am just starting to learn. To a colleague who is my age, I say mambo (what’s up?) to which she replies, poa (I’m cool). To the woman across the hall I say habari gani (how are you) to which she replies, nzuri, asante (fine, thank you). To the senior advocate down the hall, I say shikamoo (greetings, to an elder) to which he replies marahaba (greetings). And then we start work.
The centre’s offices are located in a small two-storey house at the end of Ufipa Road, in Kinondoni. I share an office with two other lawyers, L and J. We are a bit crammed at times, as a steady stream of clients pass through our office every day. L and J both see clients in our office, sometimes at the same time and sometimes offering advice to each other’s clients during meetings. Layers upon layers of Kiswahili for me to try to decipher. Sometimes the stories are translated for me after the client leaves, and I am struck, after the fact, by the lines that crease her face and the immediate nature of her problems.
Power failures are frequent. Last week, we did not have power on Wednesday or Friday. I am told that we were lucky that we had power on Monday. On days when there is no power, it is harder to get work done because the computers can’t boot up and the phones can’t ring. There is also no air conditioning on such days, but the boardroom has windows on all side and the surrounding palm trees can stir up a nice breeze. We usually bring our laptops and work until the batteries run out.
And then we say kwaheri (goodbye) and tutoanana (see you).