Welcome! Welcome to tea.
That’s the welcome given to most everyone who knocked on our door when we were growing up in Nairobi, Kenya. When we were younger, one of us would be sent off to the kiosk to buy milk and bread, and perhaps sugar if there was none in the house.
Infact guests often brought milk and bread with them. Not because they expected tea but as a tradition, a gesture of respect. You don’t visit a home empty handed.
Invitating guests to tea was like the chorus of our young lives. Sometimes welcome, sometimes not. You could have just sat down after your chores and here comes an announced guest. (English translations in parenthesis or brackets depending on where you are)
Hodi (Knock Knock)
Karibu chai (Welcome to tea)
And for us girls, that meant heading into the kitchen to make tea and serve the guests.
All these are some of the interwoven rituals that exist in many post colonial African countries.
But back to the tea, I never truly appreciated this simple gesture of hospitality. But I truly do now.
This tradition does continue to a large extent and when I do visit home and I’m visiting relatives and friends, that is the first thing I hear often accompanied by a hug or hearty handshake.
Karibu, karibu! Karibu chai! (Welcome! Welcome. Welcome to tea)