Sunday, April 26, 2009

A New Name and a New Home

On Thursday of this week, I went to meet with the village chief or kgosi in Setswana. Kgosi literally translates to king. It was a very different experience from meeting the chief in our training village and meeting the Ndebele Prince--more informal and personal.

Myself and two of my co-workers arrived at the tribal office around 10am Thursday morning and waited our turn to present ourselves to the chief and the village elders. When our turn came, we offered the formal greetings and Maureen, my supervisor, introduced me as the new Peace Corps volunteer. The chief himself was already well-informed of my presence in the village since Peace Corps had worked directly with him to build the site.

The chief is a much younger man than the village dignitaries I had previously met. Best guess is that he is in his mid to late forties. He became chief a few years ago when his father passed away. Most often the office of chief is passed from father to eldest son. Occasionally it will pass to the chief's eldest brother or nephew if the chief himself has no son. On rare occasions when the chief has no son, brother or nephew, the village elders will debate and select a new chief from amongst themselves. As of yet, I have not come across any cases in which the title has passed to a woman.

It is customary when meeting a chief to offer a gift. I brought the South Africa PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) calendar Peace Corps gave us when we arrived. It was free for me and is a small representation of what we as CHOP (Community HIV/AIDS Outreach Program) volunteers are here to assist with.

Before leaving the meeting the chief's spokesman expressed that the chief would like to give me a new Setswana name, Mmakau (Ma-k-ow-oo). The best English translation for the word is "mother of cow," but there is not really an English translation that expresses the meaning of the word. The name itself has a long history in this area--a history that I'm still researching. But because of the importance of the name to the village, it is a great honor to be given the name.

With the chief's blessing and good wishes, I have officially become a member of the community. I will now be able to come to the chief with any needs or grievances, and I fully believe that he will be a partner and an asset in my work with the community.

I consistently feel the welcoming embrace of my new home and couldn't be happier here. I look forward to building more relationships with the people here and being a part of their lives.

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