A message to my family: I am sorry for not updating you on my whereabouts; I made it safely to Uganda.
I carry a laminated Ignatian daily examen card – made by Creighton’s Deglman Center for Ignatian Spirituality – in my backpack. Saint Ignatius of Loyola designed these examens to be a daily reflection that recognizes God in our busy day. Its second section reads, “I walk through my day to notice the gifts I was offered.”
I don’t think there is such a thing as a tiny gift because even a seemingly tiny gift matters to the receiver, and the way Herbert has greeted me is a gift. Herbert is our local expert and guide; this trip would be impossible without him. Because he has lived here all his life, Herbert knows Ugandan culture and its practices. It is customary for Ugandans to greet each other with a handshake; however, this handshake differs from the one we are use in the United States. Herbert taught me this handshake on the first night when we landed in Entebbe.
These handshakes start the same way – with handshakers entering the shake at 180 degrees with the vertex as the point where your wrist and hand connect. While the American handshake ends after first contact (and some shaking that varies in intensity depending on the enthusiasm of the handshakers), the Ugandan handshake continues with a slight lift of the hand and a change in the angle of the wrist to roughlty 135 degrees so that the hands are in more of a “hugging” position. These two step are repeated to finish the handshake. I hope this makes some sense. If not, I’ll just show you when I get back.
The physical act of doing the hanshake correctly, albeit, looks cool but does not qualify Herbert’s greeting as a gift. It’s seeing Herbert with a big grin on the verge of a chuckle as we simultaneously reach out to begin the handhake (even with the low likelihood of it being executed perfectly) that is the actual gift because knowing that someone else is glad to see me brings about a sense of belonging. And, in being surrounded by the unfamiliarity of a new place and people, this sense of belonging feels all the more sacred.
May we all start to treat greetings as not a formality but a way to show each other that we are glad to be with one another.