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Goatee greetings in Kenya

Reporters on the Job: The Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, where many Somali immigrants and refugees live, has a reputation as a tough neighborhood. The tarmac stops where Eastleigh starts. Kenyan newspapers love to report on the Wild West shoot-outs between warring clans.

But when I arrived to report the story about a school that’s an oasis for children (read the story here), I vowed not to be terrified.

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A man in a prayer cap and long jellabiya outfit walked toward me, and I said, in Arabic: “Assalam aleikum.” (In English: “Peace be upon you.”)

He smiled, gently grabbed my goateed chin and said “O aleikum assalam! You know, you could be a Muslim if you tried.”

It was a startling gesture, but throughout the day I saw several people repeat it. It seemed to be a friendly, respectful gesture, because I saw younger men doing it to their elders. But before I dare do it with any Somalis, I’m going to find out just what exactly it means.