I have a new name.

I was visiting an HIV support group up in the hills of Moni, a suburb of Mbale. We rode pikis up the steep slopes of Wanale to reach a small brick-and-iron-sheet house beneath a mango tree. A group of women came running out to greet us, smiling and waving.

We wazungu entered the front room of the house and were seated on the chairs they had gotten for us. The rest of the women sat on mats around the room, each talking in various local dialects – Sabiny, Luganda, and Lugisu. Thankfully, we had a translator.

Each woman told her personal story of how AIDS had affected her life. Some had been rejected by friends and family members, forced out to live on their own. Others had been thrown out of their villages. They each told a story of sorrow and loss, each with a huge smile on their face. At the end of each, they would tell of how God had provided for them, whether that be through a friend or a stranger, miraculous or ordinary. For some, He had provided the means to get medecine. For others, He had used a friend to encourage them and take them in when everyone else rejected them.

At the end of their sharing, they asked us to introduce ourselves. I told them that I was living in Karamoja, etc, but forgot to mention my name. They asked what it was and I, embarassed, told them. “Rachel” is generally too much of a mouthful for most non-English speakers. I’ve tried “Raquel”, “Rache”, and many others – there’s just something about those sounds that is difficult to pronounce.

The ladies decided that I needed a Luganda name. They seemed to pick one at random – that is, until I realized that one of the women there was giving me her name. Nelima. It means “when the fields lie fallow” or “hoeing”. When I told them that that’s what my Ngakarimojong name means, they laughed and said it must be God’s will for me to be named that.

This brings me up to a thrilling total of nine names, birth certificate names included. Six Ugandan, three English.


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