The 30 Day Photo Challenge: A Photo of My Reality Right Now
I have always been a person of many names. When I was born my parents gave me the name of Elizabeth; my mother claims it was the only name they could really agree on, yet in their concurrence with one another the name selected was laden with love. Elizabeth, as a name, is rooted in Hebrew and literally means ‘God’s Promise’ or ‘my God is a vow.’Throughout history, Biblical, fictional, and otherwise, there have been a substantial number of incredible women bearing the name. Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist, the two Queens of England, Elizabeth Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor… It is a name I strive to live up to, a name I am honored and humbled to posses.
But while the name I bore is Elizabeth, none called me such. For the first eleven years of my life, I was Beth. Carved into my dress-up clothes chest, painted on my doors, made into a sign by my Grandfather was the nickname that most of my family still uses. And while a part of me will always be the little girl called Beth- the part of me that refused to wear anything but pink, the child who poured over dragon lore, the little girl who would ride her bike until her legs felt like they were falling off, the kid who refused to let her mother brush her hair, the little one who discovered Harry Potter and Billy Joel and The Sound of Music. She’s still real, she still exists in memory and in name.
Yet I was not to remain Beth forever. When I began Middle School I decided it was time for me to no longer be such a child. Written on my notebooks and doodled in the margins of worksheets was a new name, a name most people now know me by: Lizzie. It is a name fit for my adolescence, a name that fizzles and sparks off the tounge, filled with not one- but two uncommonly used letters, a name of awakening and spunk and clumsy steps and bad hair days.
In many ways Lizzie is still perfectly applicable to who I am, who I want to be. But the older I grow the more a familiar urge, an itch bubbles up in my head. I am growing out of my name, growing out of my teenager years and coming into adulthood. The time is not now, but I am certain before long the day will come when I will no longer introduce myself with Lizzie; the rhymes and songs of Dizzy Miss Lizzy, or (worse by far) Lizzie Borden referred to only by friends and family who have known me for long.
But that day is not now.
For Today, the day that has been my summer of learning how to Live, how to slow down and Grow, I have been gifted with another name. Not to replace Lizzie, to add.
While still in Kotido, I was given a Ngkaramajong name by beloved, calming, wise, leading Mama Rose. The name was chosen based on the season that I arrived in, not really based on personality characteristics or my English name. Which, given how potent and relevant it is, is really quite astonishing.
My Ngkaramajong name is Nachap, meaning that I came in the season of weeding. Weeding, pruning, preparing and tending to the earth to make room for a healthy and uncumbered crop to grow.
This summer, this time spent in this beautiful and broken place, has been a time of pruning. A time of discerning in what soil to plant my crop, a time of pulling out by the roots what would choke the vine. A summer of being aware of the baobabs that might overcome my small planet in the universe, a time for allowing good seeds to take root. Waiting, throughout the weeding, for the plants to bear fruit.
When people ask what exactly my internship entails, or what I’ve done, it is more than merely difficult for me to explain. I’ve mentioned here that my work has not been glamorous, or product-oriented, or even for some fancy NGO with T-shirt give-aways. We built a solar oven, collected some plastic water bottles, and made a little headway in plugging the raw data of the schools into a database. Hardly worthy of a junior league Nobel Prize.
But the material rewards are not from which my treasure is reaped. This summer I have learned how I want to live my life. Not in finality, but in constant process. I have pruned, I have plucked. I have stuffed my head with books, memorized faces, held hands, rode motorcycles on winding city streets, cried for a fictional wizard, eaten more goat than I care to admit, encountered the divine in the smallest of nooks, the most profound of people. I have seen churches, encountered Faith beyond my own reckoning in mamas with warm, worn hands and woven into the fabric strung from street shops.
Not all of what I have learned has been beautiful, pretty, or nice. None of it was trimmed in lace or slathered in butter.
I have muddied my feet on holy ground, danced in the rain. I’ve peed in a hole in the ground, slept a summer under mosquito nets, barely been able to walk 100 feet to the clinic.
This has been unbelievably difficult. This has been perfect. This has absolutely sucked. This has been a life lived on top of a tall, tall mountain screaming out at the world below that all was Good and Great and Wonderous.
I am leaving with lines etched across the skin stretched taunt across my soul. Laughter lines, sorrow lines, wallowing and worshipping and wondering and wandering. Not lines easily unpacked or deconstructed or made do with the rhetoric of the ever-present product-oriented inquiries. I am whole, I am in pieces. I want so badly to go home there, I desperately wish I could stay home here. My life is one destined, so it seems, to be spent in the in-between places, the space of collision and collaboration. The space of never and forever and no absolutes and Truths that stand the test of the universes coming and going.
And I am content.
current jam: ‘brand new day’ joshua radin