Greetings are important in São Tomé. You cannot enter a room without greeting every single person in it, whether it’s a handshake, a kiss, a hello, whatever.
Sometimes to save time from having to go and kiss someone you give them a thumbs up. Thumbs up means, “Tudo fixe?” (“fixe” rhymes with “leash”, for those who care about pronunciation) or “Everything cool?” And the correct response is to give the person a thumbs up back, which means “sempre fixe” or “always cool”. It’s like the São Tomé version of pounding it, giving knuckles.
We drive by in our truck en route to the STeP UP office, where I work. As we see people we know, we give them thumbs up. They give thumbs up back. Now they have been appropriately greeted.
I like the phrase “sempre fixe”. Everything is cool. Life is good. No worries. It also makes me think of my friend Marvin.
Marvin and I dated for some time back in the States. Now we are very good friends. Marvin is an officer in the Marine Corps and life isn’t easy for him. When we stopped dating, he had to move to Oklahoma for artillery training and, a few months later, I went to São Tomé. He didn’t like the idea of me doing volunteer work in another country. When I told him originally that I wanted to apply for the Peace Corps (which I didn’t end up doing), he would tell me to do things like keep a gun on me at all times. His family is Haitian and I find Haiti to be very much like São Tomé, tropical, in terrible need, but quite friendly, but it still didn’t assuage his worry for my safety in Africa. Haiti is much more dangerous…and in that way its similarity to São Tomé makes Marvin nervous…in case it is dangerous, too.
Yet sometime in the next couple of days, he’ll be going off to do his own foreign and quite dangerous traveling, to Afghanistan.
I try not to worry about him, but he is a close friend, a brother. I have been following his life from afar, coping along with the rest of America, watching every news program with a knot in my stomach and hoping for just a little more information about what the war brings. I remember the “Semper Fi” sticker he had on his SUV. “Always Faithful,” as the Marine Corps says.
There is a point where lives intersect, and often again where lives fork. We have both gone off to our respective battles in different countries, seemingly different worlds. And while I live the life of “Sempre Fixe” Marvin lives the life of “Semper Fi”. When I ask someone “tudo fixe?” and hear their response, I say a prayer under my breath. And somehow it comforts me that, even though I cannot give my support in person, we are still connected.