I like nicknames. I think it’s a simple way to demonstrate affection or endearment for a person. It implies connection, shared experience or history, and most often a positive association. When I use them for other people I use them because I’m fond of them and it’s a simple way for me to tell them that. But they don’t usually stick to universal status, not everyone called my grade school friend Julie, Jules Verne...I did, but no one who ever heard me call her that decided, hey, that’s a great name for her, let me call her that too (much to her benefit in that particular case).
I’ve had a few nicknames in my life...most of them are plays on my first name - Heidikins, Heidmeister, Heids, Heidi-ho, Hiney, Heidela...you get the picture. I don’t think I’ve ever been given a qualitative nickname, one that describes a bit of who I am.
The Moru are serious about their nicknames. I didn’t realize exactly how serious until today. I was given my Moru nickname probably about 2 weeks after arriving here in Mundri. I was spending the night with Larissa at a compound where she has been doing a homestay for a while now. Larissa and Melissa and I were sitting in chairs that had been brought out for us to sit in, the women of the compound were bustling around doing I wasn’t sure what...I was kinda frustrated with not being able to say more than “hello, how are you” to anyone I met, then the grandmother Larissa has been sharing a tukul with, Christine, a spunky no-nonsense kind of a lady, was bustling by on her way somewhere and said something or other then marched around the circle of the three of us white girls, naming Larissa and Melissa’s nicknames (Konyuwa - like a sesame, and Ndingwa - firstborn twin, respectively) as she patted them on the arm, and then she got to me and said “kituwa.”
Larissa said to me, “well, now you have a Moru nickname, it means ‘like the sun’.” Hm. I was feeling particularly Eeyore-esque at the moment with language frustration and jealous of Larissa and Melissa apparent comfort and cultural maneuverability, then this no-nonsense woman gives me a nickname inferring that I’m like the sun - exuding warmth and light...ironic...I really think it’s because of the light color of my hair and not the supposed “warmth” of my personality, but man alive, does God have a sense of humor or what?
Anyways, there it was. No one else said anything about it for a couple weeks, but then a couple times, when I heard Melissa and Larissa introduce themselves, I heard them use their first names and nicknames. So, I thought I’d give that a whirl a few times. So earlier this week, I went by the health center to introduce myself. I wandered into the OPD (Out patient dept) and the first person I saw was a man who introduced himself to me as Lazarus. As I was leaving, he asked me my names again, and told me something about what his names are and what people call him. So I told him my name was “Heidi, or Aidah, sawa sawa” (which means something like ‘they are the same’) because Aidah is much easier for people to remember than Heidi since it’s familiar to them. Then I told him that I’d also been given a Moru nickname - Kituwa. His face kind of lit up and said “Ah! Kituwa! Ok. It’s good!” I told him goodbye and didn’t think much of it.
Today I went back to the health center with the group of visitors that are here with us right now - we call them “the directors.” Our WHM Executive director (Bob Osborne), the Director of Ministries and his wife (Josiah and Barbara Bancroft), and our Field Director and most of his family (also my former team leaders in Uganda) (Scott and Jennifer Myhre and Jack and Julia). Scott and I were in the pharmacy and the man who seemed in charge there (I can remember none of his 3 names at the moment) asked me my name again as I left and I told him it was ‘Heidi, or Aidah, sawa sawa.‘ He looked a bit perplexed and said, “Are you Kituwa?” I indicated that, indeed, I was the one. His face lit up and he shook my hand vigorously. Word had gotten around. There was a kawaja named Kituwa who was a nurse who would be coming to join them there. Not Heidi, not even Aidah, but it was Kituwa that stuck.
I was telling the visitors afterwards about the irony of them name, considering I was feeling particularly Eeyore-esque when it was given, and Jennifer, who knows my inner (and sometimes not so inner) Eeyore very well, said - “it’s a redemptive name.” And she’s right. It is. God can make even me, live up to a nickname like this one!
I like it. It gives me hope. Even if it really is just about my blond hair, It makes me want to be more “sunny.” Maybe this is the place. There is certainly no shortage of sunshine in Mundri, South Sudan. Who knew there’d be a lesson for me in it all!