Wa-Alaikum-Salaam

Shared Thoughts – Yeru Ebuen – yeru.ebuen@gmail.com – Today marks the official start of my column. It has taken over a year of consideration and finally, I’ve reckoned that February is just the right time to start something new. Oman may not be my home country, and just like more than two million other expats that make up the country’s workforce, I represent certain experiences and anecdotes relatable to everyone who came here to work.
Being greeted As-Salaam-Alaikum is inescapable anywhere one goes and in my first six months, I dreaded saying back the courteous Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.
About two years ago, when somebody greeted me with an informal Salaam, I was proud to greet them back in my flawless borrowed American accent a very ‘Good morning.’
It went on for about three months. It came to a point that I would totally brush off a greeting like I didn’t hear it, not because I was trying to be rude but because I just don’t know how to say things properly and at the expense of not to appear moronic and then being laughed at, I rather just stay quiet and move on.
Fast forward to today, whenever I see tourists and expats being greeted by the locals in Arabic, I see the same tensed reaction I used to have. Their reaction was no different from mine. Being every bit observant, I can relate to the panic they feel inside and I know a few of them are a little bit embarrassed of not knowing how to respond or address a customary greeting.
For the Arabic speakers, Wa-Alaikum-Salaam may flow out easily like it’s nothing. But to anyone learning a new language, the words are a tongue twister.
In the last two years, I’ve learned so much. Not only have I learned the basic greeting and response, I’ve also learned kayf halik and the responses tamam, tayeb and Al Hamdullilah. This to me is progress.
When somebody greets me As-Salaam-Alaikum these days, it’s no longer unacknowledged. The response has become instinctive.
If your background is influenced strongly by western culture and you’ve worked in cutthroat corporate environment, even a regular ‘good morning’ is considered a waste of time. I’ve attended several meetings in my previous work that literally started without acknowledgement of anyone in the room.
Here in Oman, I was confronted with the fact that courteousness is a necessity. That all relationships, whether its business or anything else, have to start with something nice, at least even a simple “How are you?” And it’s something that I truly appreciate. After all, it does not harm anyone to ask someone of their condition, their families or their businesses. A quick chat doesn’t hurt.
I used to feel that the Arabic greeting wasn’t something I have to take part in. But learning a simple Wa-Alaikum-Salaam is the first step into embracing a different language and culture that has its own merits and complexities. It is also a greeting that is not confined in the Middle East but is spoken by millions of other people from as far as South East Asia to even in the Americas.
Saying it is a form of acknowledgment that you are making an effort to learn more about your host country. Seeing a foreigner respond to a greeting makes the local very happy. I see them getting validated and they usually appreciate the effort. A response always solicits a hearty smile or laugh.
For a world changing so fast and many people and culture losing their humanity, it’s always okay to take a step back and appreciate the simplicity of a greeting. All of us are experiencing something in life and a ‘simple how are you?’ makes a lot of difference. To respond to a greeting, is at least, showing to others that you also still have a humanity left in you.