I’m fine!

Posted Jun 29, 2009 by 11 Comments

I have always loathed the word “fine.” In my experience, people always use it when they are trying to avoid telling you how they really feel. My close friends know to never say the “f word” around me because it will only elicit a full-on interrogation.

What do you mean ‘fine’? How do you really feel?

Fine’? Now what did you really think of my cooking?!

And how do you mean this outfit looks fine?!

Usually when I am posed with a question, “how’re you doing?” for example, I try to use words that give a little more information.


Absolutely wonderful, thanks for asking!

Or even sometimes “really awful actually, I’m having a terrible day.”

I can only imagine how ridiculously obnoxious this must get, especially to those people who are just being polite and would probably much prefer a quick “fine.” Yet somehow I’ve adopted the habit and can’t control it anymore. Without thinking the words spill out of my mouth… “I’m so glad you asked! I had the most phenomenal day…”

It's inevitable.  Wherever you go in the slum, the kids always shout "How are you???"

It's inevitable. Wherever you go in the slum, the kids always shout the same thing... "How are you???"

I had virtually banned the f word from my vocabulary as there are plenty of other available options that actually convey what you are feeling.

And then, I came to Kenya.

Believe it or not, this once most detestable word has won a beloved place in my heart.

The first English phrase Kenyan children learn is “how are you?” and the reply they’re taught is “fine.” Kids who can barely walk know this simple call and response, and they put it to use when a white person is anywhere within shouting distance.

Walking through the slums, dozens of kids come grab your hands asking with as much enthusiasm as a person so tiny could possibly muster “how are YOU?!”

My first visit, delighted by this ritual, I eagerly answered “Great! How are you?”

My animated response met blank stares.

“Uh… I mean…” My mind fumbled over some vague memory of hosts warning me that there was only one accepted response to this sacred phrase.

“I mean…fine? …Yeah, yeah, FINE!”

For you, little one... I'm FINE!

For you, little one... I'm FINE!

The magic word unlocked explosive laughter, giddy jumping and a persistent chanting of “how are YOU? How are YOU? How are YOU?

I smiled the kind of smile that I thought could never be in any way associated with such a pitiful word as fine.

And that next hour when the same question was posed to me what must have been 50 times, I answered each inquirer with no hesitation- “I am fine!”

So you’re wondering how I am doing today. I could tell how about how exciting it was to practice my Swahili, haggling over prices this morning. I could tell you about how hard I laughed when the man at the corner maize stand raved in all seriousness about the “fine American restaurant,” McDonalds . I could tell you how depleted I feel after a 7 hour day in the slums. But I hope you will respond with as much enthusiasm as my little Kenyan friends when I just tell you simply that I am fine.

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About the Author: Christine Sullivan was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2009. She graduated in 2009 from Taylor University with a bachelor's degree in Studio Arts. She loves finding beauty in the unseen and overlooked and is passionate about bringing stories of injustice to light.

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  1. Kim said... 


    June 29th, 2009 at 9:57 am  

    Oh my gosh! I want to just hug all of those adorable kids!!!! Thanks for posting the video…was wondering if you tech savvy WND’ers utilized YouTube! :)

  2. Amy Sorrells said... 


    June 29th, 2009 at 12:05 pm  

    That’s definitely the most captivating headline I’ve ever read. LOL! Great post, Christine!

  3. Brad Ruggles said... 


    June 29th, 2009 at 12:28 pm  

    Those children are just adorable. Isn’t it just like God to put you in a country where the only acceptable response to the “How are you?” question is the word you hate the most? :-)

    Keep up the great posts. We’re praying for you and thankful for these wonderful glimpses into the lives of those beautiful people.

  4. Dave Quigley said... 


    June 29th, 2009 at 12:41 pm  

    Very touching and sweet Christine. Praying for your full recovery so that you can be ‘fine’ again!

  5. Amy Osgood said... 


    June 29th, 2009 at 1:41 pm  

    I firmly agree w/ you on your feelings about “fine”. I use when I frankly don’t have the energy to elaborate on my feelings. It’s interesting how “fine” in America is to keep people at bay, while in Kenya children are taught that is how to connect. Keep up the great work!

    And kudos on your haggling today! :)

  6. Dave Rod said... 


    June 30th, 2009 at 7:31 pm  

    OK…now I am wondering why the engaging question “how are you” is first off the lips of Kenyan kids when they encounter an obvious foreigner and our American kids do no such thing. Why is it our kids learn to be wary of a someone different rather than engaging? When was the last time you met an American kid asked how you were?

    Just wondering.

  7. Em Shake said... 


    June 30th, 2009 at 8:30 pm  

    Thanks for the video, and I loved your closing paragraph.

  8. Rob Yonan said... 


    June 30th, 2009 at 10:38 pm  

    Let’s unleash these kids on the streets of (fill in the blank).

  9. Lynne Easton said... 


    July 5th, 2009 at 11:50 am  

    Thanks for the video. My son and husband shared stories from their trips to Nairobi of the children shouting “How are you?” at them, so it was very cool to actually hear and see them on your video!

  10. Debbie said... 


    July 6th, 2009 at 11:01 am  

    Thanks so much for the video! It did my heart good to hear “How are YOU?” again! That is one of my very favorite memories from my trip there in ’05…

  11. eness said... 


    July 6th, 2009 at 5:22 pm  

    Hey Christine, I’m glad you’re “fine” especially after being so “not-fine” for awhile. :)

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