Fwd: What's in a name
Oct 28, 2011 10:14 PDT
When I moved to SA in 2008 I found accommodation in a 1 bedroom
cottage at the back of a larger house in Kempton Park. Towards the end
of 2008 tenants in the main house moved out and a white Afrikaner family
moved into the main house. It was a couple in their early 30s with two
kids, one 5 going on 6 and the other a two year old toddler.
The wife was, according to me, a nut-case and on several occasions I
found the henpecked husband with his suitcases packed ready to move out.
I often found myself playing the role of elder trying to calm tempers
and patch up things. My personal opinion was that the husband would be
better off without the nagging wife, but like the good African elder I
always advised them to think of their children and stay together. This
was even before the events I am about to recount below happened.
Then December came and my children came for the holidays. My daughter
was almost 10 and my son who was 6 years old. The children were instant
friends. Never mind that my son couldn't speak English yet, and the
little white girl not a word of Shona, they just found ways to play
together - barrelling around the yard at tireless speeds the entire day.
Phew! You can never tell where children get this much energy! Nowadays I
cannot even maintain a sedate jog for a minute.
My children of course were not allowed into the main house. So the
little girl often came to play in the cottage with my son. On many
occasions I would hear her bowling being thrashed by the mother. I
didn't want to interfere too much and I didn't ask why though I often
advised the mother not to beat a child so young. After a thrashing the
little girl would spend maybe half a day without setting foot in my
house but a few hours later she would be back.
Then one day she just piped up, "Jupiter, my mother beats saying I
should not play with your children. She says black children will give me
I certainly didn't mind her playing with my children but at the same
time I didn't want to use her plight to make a point and get her into
more trouble with the mother. It was her who was getting a terrible
beating and I didn't want her continue being beaten. At the same time I
didn't mind her playing with my children. So there I was just looking at
her at a total loss for words on how to express my thoughts.
"But I like Kumbi." My son is named Kumbirai. "Kumbi is very nice."
We looked at each other with my wife.
"You can play with Kumbi, but you should also listen to your mother."
was all I could manage to say.
"But Kumbi is my friend. And Fungai is also nice."
"Kumbi will always be your friend, but your mother also likes you so you
should listen to her."
"My mother says I should find white friends, but there are no nice ones."
The girl never stopped coming to my cottage and she got many more
beatings for it and her plight was one of the reasons I decided to move
away from the place. The adults of the white family never said anything
bad to me. The husband was genuinely nice, I could tell. The wife was
careful to wear the 'nice' mask in front of us. I don't think she ever
realised what her daughter had told us. I decided that confronting the
family would probably get the girl more beatings and possibly
stigmatisation so to save her I had to move away with my children.
Then three months ago my sister had a baby daughter. We jokingly
suggested that the now 9 year old Kumbirai find a name for the baby. He
spend a day thinking hard then he came up with a name, Ameline. It
didn't click in my mind immediately but Ameline was the name of the
little white girl. When I eventually realised it and I mentioned it to
my wife we all laughed. My mother and my sister were all delighted by
the name and how it came to be. The name was immediately adopted so now
I have niece called Ameline named after Kumbi's friend, a sweet white
girl beaten by her mother for playing with Kumbirai.
Fungai, my daughter also came up with a name for the baby, Anotida. So
my niece's names are Anotida Ameline. In Shona they literally mean
'Ameline likes us' or 'She likes us, Ameline'. At the time it didn't
strike me but now the more I think about the more I wonder. Is this a
coincidence or were my children trying to make a point? They certainly
never said anything to suggest they wanted to make a point and Fungai
explained that her name suggestion came from Mwari Anotida (God loves us).
The statement they ended up making about their friend who was beaten up
by her mother for playing with them is quite powerful and inspiring.
I wonder whether Ameline would be allowed to name a new baby Kumbirai,
after her friend a black boy, not just by her mother but by any member
of her family. I can only wonder, for I will never know the answer.