“You are welcome.”
This is the proper order of this common exchange in Ghana. It begins with someone welcoming you even before they know you or you do anything worthy. Since they have graciously welcomed you to their place, it is appropriate to say, “Thank you.”
But in the West, we have to say “thank you” first before someone says “You are welcome.” It’s a picky point, but at least interesting that we have to do something worthy of thanks before someone welcomes us.
Today we went to the welcoming ceremony with the Chief of Kofi’s district in his home down of Dzodze. It’s the second time I’ve gone this trip and the fourth time in four years. I know how it goes—step off the bus, hear the distant music, come closer to the women singing, playing rattles and dancing, the men drumming, loosen up your arms and shoulders and join the dance. Then sit down facing the Chief and Kofi’s extended family, listen to the ritual greetings between Kofi and the Chief and his assistants, watch them pour the libation to ask permission of the community and the ancestors, come up and receive one-by-one the bracelet of welcome. Today, as happened two years ago, there was an extra little ceremony that I’ll save for my next post. Then more dancing, sitting in with the rattle players (but not the song) and really, it would go on for a few more hours if we didn’t have to get back for dinner.
Getting on the bus, the villagers, men, women, children, elders of all ages, stood outside to wave goodbye with ear-to-ear smiles. Going through other parts of the town, anyone who saw us likewise waved with a smile. Such a simple thing to do, but such a profound effect. It’s not cute, it’s not native charm, it’s not our romantic notion of how happy villagers are. It’s simply human and because it’s so far from our experience—especially in an exchange between black and white folks— it’s profound.
Sorry I don’t have a photo of many people greeting us, but here’s one from two years ago of a woman who spotted us from her house and ran to the window to greet us. And sorry to bring this happy entry down to the swamp, but how else are we going to realize how not okay it was was happened in our history? How else are we going to stop excusing it, ignoring it and worst of all, perpetuating it in places like Charlottesville and in the general muck of our current political climate? Look at the welcoming face and look at the faces twisted with hatred. Who is worthy of praise? Who is worthy of a model for our children? Who is making both themselves and others happy? Who is making both
Again, we can make all the excuses about the history people inherited, but human beings have choices. What does it take to stop? Simply a new habit of saying:
You are welcome.
And then enjoying the appropriate response.