Thursday, November 12, 2009

Friends & Neighbors

Sitting on my porch/office tonight, I can hear the rhythmic beat of drums in the distance, echoing off the hills. A second ago I was annoyed, thinking I was in DC listening to the Sunday afternoon bizarro drum circle from Meridian/Malcolm X Park. And then I remembered. I have no idea where the drums are coming from, but in this ridiculous nonsense world of high walls and barbed wire that is Goma, they are wonderful to hear. I bet it’s a rocking party. I wish I were there.


Yesterday I made a new friend. She is on the RRM team and came into our office to chat with A. She was wearing hot pink pants and I was wearing light pink pants and so we laughed. She told me that she would “give me” French if I would “give her” English, and then she told me, in English, “Welcome home”. This was probably a total mistranslation of something in her head, but regardless, it was lovely, and she said it twice. There is nothing more important to your happiness, your sanity, and your safety than being friends with your neighbors.

The two men who work in the radio room are also my buddies. With them, I can speak French. With everyone else, it flees my brain and I stutter like a child. I speak French easily with the guys in the radio room and they correct me easily when I make mistakes and we tease each other. I value them. They're kind.

Once I have my French under control, it is VITAL that I learn more phrases in Swahili. Some of our guards began trying to teach me last week and have since sort of given up, which is depressing, but I am not a good student.


When I lived in Senegambia, I was given the gift of the name Fatima Bintu Chabbeh Dolamina Camara Gaye Kanoteh, Fatim Kanoteh for short. (I love it because “Kanoteh” is a traditional Griot family, and a family of Kanotehs I knew bestowed upon me their name for dancing around like a clown, entertaining them.) In Uganda, I was Abea Rakele Ajok. Abea means beautiful and Ajok means mutant. Beautiful Mutant Rachel. I was given the name Ajok teasingly, and then my friends felt guilty and changed my name to Abea; but I LOVED the combination so I kept them both. (It was also a fantastic icebreaker, as people would laugh incredulously whenever I introduced myself.)

Here, I wonder if they give out names. You can ask for names, but you really shouldn’t. You should earn them. I’m proud of all of mine. I wonder if I’ll get one here.