I’ve written before about the kids in my village and how they were my best friends, best teachers, and my family away from home. One of those kids, Eliza, age 9, loved to tell me outrageous stories to make me laugh. My Bemba (the local language) skills were good enough for survival, but I was still mostly at caveman level- “me need water” or “you eat vegetables, good health”. Luckily, kids are more patient with this kind of communication than adults. Eliza’s stories had to be limited to concepts we’d both understand, so they were about food and local people and places. One of her favorites was to tell me that Brent, the volunteer who had been there before me, was going to sell bread in town for the equivalent of $20/loaf or more- it changed each time she told it. I would act shocked & ask her who would buy such expensive bread. She’d answer with the names of all the other Peace Corps volunteers she knew, since they were the only people she assumed could afford such prices.
The fact that I was a 24-year-old single woman without kids was unfathomable to these kids. They start to get married by 16 and most of the moms who lived near me were my age or younger. This led to much speculation about how I must really have kids back in America who were waiting for me to come back. And eventually, Eliza would tell me a story about my kids at home. I’d ask her what their names were. “Mary…. Chilufya…… and chinesi”. This got loads of giggles. Mary is a normal English name and Chilufya is a typical Bemba name, but chinesi is not a name. It’s the word for Chinese cabbage. So I’d exclaim “Chinesi! I’m the mother of a vegetable??!” And she’d laugh and say something about not eating my baby. That was a running joke for us for a while and all the kids got a real kick out of it. The other two names would change, but the last was always chinesi.
In Bemba, parents are known as Ba na (mother of) or Ba shi (father of) their firstborn child. So my real Bemba name now that I have a child would be BanaTemwa (it literally means Mother of Love, which I’m pretty thrilled about) (yes, I did plan it that way). It was a natural progression for one of the kids to think to call me Banachinesi at some point. I actually answered to it and after the laughter faded, it was stuck good. Some Peace Corps volunteers who visited heard it and thought it was hilarious, so they started calling me Banachinesi too. And once I started dating Joshua (my husband), he called me that too. He still does, once in a while, and it always takes me back to those days of giggling by the river with the kids in my village. It never fails to make me smile and wonder how they are. Every email I get from Crys is full of wonderful internet gems but also a reminder of a different version of me that I miss being even though I love being BanaTemwa now most of all.
In Love & Light,