We Don't Need Other Names

I have a well-founded fear of motorbikes. Add that my fear of heights, small spaces and life sized stuffed animals and you can see why my life is one exhilarating experience! I have no need for extreme sports when I can walk along the streets of Kampala and get that same Adrenalin rush. Come to think of it, why would any African indulge in extreme sports? We are already living in the edge as it is… Fear of bikes aside, earlier in the week I took a boda to work and almost died because of my name.

My friend and I were actually waiting for a matatu but this boda guy stopped in front of us and promised to charge us the same as a matatu would have. Since there was a bit of traffic and I really needed to get on with slaying some dragons, I decided to hop on. Being the friendly Ugandan he is, the boda guy asked our names as we rode off into the sunrise (somehow that doesn’t quite sound right… sunrise). My friend gave him hers and he said it back, as if to test it out on his tongue.

I shouted out, “Ivy!”

He turned his head back and asked me to repeat my name. Apparently he hadn’t encountered an Ivy before and those two succinct syllables were strange to his ears. I shouted it back… and again. By then we were at a junction and since the boda guy was busy trying to catch my name, he didn’t see an oncoming car from the right. Just at the moment he got my name right, we found ourselves wedged between two cars, amidst great hooting and cussing. No one got hurt… and the boda guy yelled at the two drivers, calling them stupid (that is how you know an accident was not serious… when there is a lot of yelling on both sides).

For a while now I have been debating dropping my English name and settling for just Muthoni. Or ‘Noni’ to my friends. No one calls me Noni though, except my mum. I think it would catch on with time, though. If I was a Muthoni, maybe the boda guy would have caught my name instantly and I would have one less near death experience.

I have been going through this whole africanisation phase where I want to grow out my natural hair, wear print, use my African name, listen to local music… I met a lady a few weeks ago who phrased it so well, “We don’t need other names.”

This could very well be an identity crisis. All the same, I am practising introducing myself as Muthoni. Who knows, the people I meet in the next ¾ of my life may get the hang of calling me by it. It’s not the most glamorous of names… in fact it has no real meaning. However, it belonged to my grandmother and that certainly counts for something.


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