Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Names

(November 16, 2008)

Personal time. That's the wording on the schedule. And my assumption was that the meaning would be the same as it was in the states. But not necessarily so. Yesterday was scheduled as almost entirely personal time, but as my village mates and I were to find out, this was "time to be personal with others," as opposed to "our own personal alone time." The day was spent trying to communicate with laughing children and amused old men, and making "panketos"--the local variation on the donut hole.

Familiar names given to new things and vice have been a common theme during our training. There's Guinness, but it tastes nothing like at home or Europe. There's spam, but it's made with chicken (spicken), as pork is forbidden by Islam. And today, I got a new name.

We had been told about the naming ceremony before we had even reached Bumari, our training village, and it's something that I had anticipated with curiosity. Are they going to shave my head, per tradition? Will it be long and awkward? Will I have to dance? Will my new name be Mustafa? These thoughts swirled in my head as I woke this morning and took my cold bucket bath. Soon, I was called to breakfast by my host family. Eating with my hands next to little Kaadi and Ensaa, I looked around at the adults with trepidation. After finishing and washing my hands I was given some traditional clothes and returned to my room. The pants were easily 40 inches at the waist (with a drawstring) and the shirt all but swallowed me up in a sea of light blue embroidery. The hat? Too small, of course. Jarra, my cousin, laughed openly when she brought me my second breakfast of spicken, potatoes, and bread. I'm constantly given more food than I need, and the process of refusing and explaining that I'm sick or not hungry is so complicated that I eat most of what I'm given. I can barely take the spam, so I eat a piece of two and focus mainly on the potatoes as I wait for Bakari, my teacher, to come and get me. He doesn't seem to be coming, so my Maama, my aunt, finally just tells me to go myself.

Upon arrival I greet my fellow trainees and we share a few laughs at our costumes--ill fitting both for our bodies and our skin tone. A large rug covers the rust-colored dirt under the tree in the center of Bumari, and a number of well-dressed men sit on one side of it. I'm told that I will be first, and am directed to the center of the rug. A man in a bright purple "compleat," or full outfit, feigns shaving my head, and recites a prayer. I'm given some party favors--a small baggie of juice, panketos, and kola nuts--and sent back to my seat with my new name ringing in the air: "Seeku Darboe." Whitney, Tammy, and Kasey, my village mates, are soon christened in the same manner.

Once the formal ceremony is finished, the men leave and the dancing begins. One of the girls drums heavily on a bidong, or large jug, as the girls of varying size erupt into laughter and stomping. They call, "Seeku!", and thrust me to the center, where I awkwardly ape their stomping and bird-like arm flapping for few moments to appease them. After all of the trainees had danced, the crowd dispersed, and Only Seeku, Faatu, Saatu, and Kaadi remained, wondering exactly what just had happened.

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