Arrival into Nairobi: 13:30 on Monday, the 31st of May to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
See in the distance: Steven, the driver of the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya, holding my name up boldly and smiling.
“Karibu!” , he says.
What is Karibu do you ask?
Swahili for ‘Welcome’.
Okay makes sense; he was waiting for me to arrive for my fellowship with HRTK and wishes me Karibu!
But what I found out instantly was Karibu doesn’t just mean the standard. ‘Welcome’ that you might see on signs, storefronts, and border crossings.
Karibu also means ‘you are welcome here’.
You are welcome here in Kenya. Karibu! A greeting not only to say hello, but that I was wanted here in Kenya.
For a moment, I was almost confused! And it wasn’t jet lag. Dubai was an hour ahead of Nairobi.
Being both Jewish and American in 2010, ‘You are welcome here’ is not the normal greeting you usually get in most places. From a travel perspective, when I arrive in countries in Western Europe, such as Spain, or France I almost have to ‘ease the pain’ and pretend to be from Canada, or the UK (yes sometimes I use my faux British accent). And let’s face it… I travel in the shadows when in Dubai, and was hoping no one saw me with my Hebrew Travel Prayer on the flight from Sharjah to Nairobi. (Yes, I did have to pretend to be reading my Lonely Planet Kenya Guide while muffling it under my breath–Sharjah is the Emirate next to Dubai, where I flew out of, and is a bit more conservative. For the first time in my life I was the only Westerner on the plane).
With no expectations on how my new office environment and colleagues might be, Karibu! A few times over. Again, not just welcome, but that I was welcome here in Kenya. “Thank you”, I said. And I did what I usually do. Smiled:)
I then learned ‘Asante’ in Swahili means ‘ Thank you’.
I want to personally say Asante to all my new co-workers below for such a warm arrival in Nairobi.
Wouldn’t you also want to work with these smiling faces?