I have finally received a Karimojong name. As some of you may have heard, Christopher is also called Lopenek, which means the guy with the beard. The name seems so fitting in his present state of Amish-like facial hair that I had hoped for something similar for myself. In fear and trembling I waited for someone to choose a defining characteristic of mine and form a name around it. The day did not come, for which I was simultaneously grateful. Although the Karamojong do not shy away from pointing out what we would call faults or idiosyncrasies, they do not do this as readily for women as for men. So I continued to stumble along introducing myself as clearly as I could, hoping for the common misappropriation of “Gloria” to my name instead of the blank stare and nervous smile.
One day, I was visiting with a friend from church who confessed that although she had been to my house for lunch, knew my face and was happy to greet me every Sunday she still could not remember my name! We decided then to go on a search for a Karimojong name. Her husband helped us by listing off a few, some of which I rejected because another Mzungu (white person) already had that name or because it was simply too common or because I wanted to be able to easily pronounce my own name! We finally settled on Namuria (na-moo-ree-a), which means grass. Our friend went on further to say that it is the grass that crawls along the ground (not the kind that grows tall), grows easily everywhere and is difficult to get out of your garden. I laughed at thinking of myself as a weed, but he corrected me to say that it symbolized fertility and perseverance.
The more I consider these two characteristics the more I am humbled by his gift of a name. My friend bestowed on me first, one of the greatest honors of Karamoja. To be the mother of many children here is somewhat akin to what it was in Bible times. You are not only providing for yourself in the future, but you are also respected and revered for the mere fact of your offspring. When I have children I will gain a new name: “the Mother of ___”. Secondly, he either saw in or chose to bless me with a characteristic which is essential to survival in Karamoja. Perseverance isn’t merely getting through, it is willingly being broken so that it can thrive again on the other side. The many constant trials that face the Karamojong in daily life, whether it is sickness and death or failed crops, can easily wear down the faint of heart. I have found that many aspects of the Karimojong culture are coping methods to deal with these inevitable hardships. My friend blessed me with hope to have life and life abundantly in anticipation of whatever comes. What a beautiful gift from a fellow brother and sister in Christ!