When Zulu tribes people approach each other in the bush, they call out “Sawubona”, which means “We see you”. The person replies, “Yebo sawubona”, “Yes, we see you too”. It implies more than an individual recognizing another, invoking the “we” in all of us, according to Orland Bishop, who is a brilliant man working in healing and human development, mentoring at-risk youth and creating urban truces. He believes that seeing is a dialogue that establishes you as a witness to each other’s presence on this earth. “My seeing includes my ancestors and the divinities. Seeing has empowered us to investigate our mutual potentials for living,” he says.
I began several years ago to call out “Sawubona” to my horses each morning as I walk down the path to the barn and they stick out their beautiful red heads to greet me. They murmur in acknowledgement and I respond, “Yebo sawubona”. I look my horses in the eye and communicate more deeply with them than I do with most people I interact with throughout my day. With these frigid, snowy conditions this winter, I am visiting them in the barn every couple of hours to be sure that they are drinking water, eating and moving around enough to avoid getting sick. Last night, the wind whipped up, whistling and rattling the branches of the trees as I filled water buckets at 10 pm and dispensed a couple of carrots along with extra flakes of hay. It was hard to walk away from them, back into my warm, cozy house without wishing that the horses could come along with me. Still, my older mare, Silk, pressed her face against my arm, resting on me and then pushing me to go, and I understood that she was telling me that they would be fine --they were able to take care of themselves in the cold. And this morning, when I dragged my aching bones out to feed them and called out “Sawubona!”, I received the enthusiastic “Nnnmmmm, nnnmm!” that let me know everything was all right.
Why is it easier to establish this “mutual consent”, as Orland Bishop calls it, with our animals than it is with each other? I have heard that some indigenous elders have been urging us to “change the Dream”. Clearly, the Dream that we have right now is not leading us down a path that many of us want to follow. We look each other in the eyes less and less these days, and it causes so much suffering. “If we see each other, something is happening that would not happen unless we are together,” Orland says, ”If I’m by myself, it will never happen. So I must look for those who are looking for me… And if we do what we are here to do, what would the world look like?”
With each person that I encounter today, I am going to take an extra moment to make good eye contact and allow them to tell me what they want me to see about themselves. I believe it only takes a moment to change the conversation.