Sunday, May 19, 2013

Bounty Meditations: Rediscovering Words

In the U.S. I used the word bounty for cheesy Thanksgiving dinner prayers or deep discussions about paper towels.  But it means something different in Africa.  Actually, it means a lot.

“Hi,” an orphan girl had said as she sat down next to me recently in a rural orphanage an hour out of my city. She looked ahead.

“What’s your name?” I’d asked her, amused.

“I’m Isabelle.  It means my God is a God of plenty.  My bounty will be good.” I had nodded.  “What’s your name?” she asked.

“It’s Cheri. Nice to meet you,” I’d smiled.

“But what does it mean?”

“Oh, umm… it means my dear or my darling in French.” She looked confused so I continued, “It means my love.

“And do you show it?” Isabelle looked at me with her eyebrows raised, expectantly.  I was pretty sure there was a forty year old in this kid’s body. “Do you show love?”

I had hesitated, not sure of how to answer. “Yeah… I hope so.  I hope that’s what people think of me.”

“Hope is not good enough,” she corrected me. “You must show it. You have to live your name.”  

Wow. Well, someone was teaching this kid, and apparently it wasn’t me. 

During a different orphanage visit I overheard children discussing the meaning of their names with a friend of mine. A little boy named Kutenda chimed in. “My name means you have to be thankful!" he had half-way announced proudly and maybe just slightly half-way complained.  Kutenda (actually meaning "to thank") was only four, but already he knew.

Words and names mean a lot on this continent.  They aren’t just symbolic. They are used as points of action and focus, like an idea one clings to. 

One of the most powerful words in my country is bounty.  On a continent where subsistence farming is common, where meager crops are life-blood, and where hunger and starvation are real, bounty is a focus. And certainly, Kutenda is right. You have to be thankful.  

When I mentioned this topic recently to a white local, she had looked at me surprised.  I realized once again that should I choose to stay in The Bubble, isolated from the non-affluent populations that are ever present but often ignored, I would never recognize powerful beautiful concepts, like bounty, that propel lives forward daily.  Over the next week I’m going to be sharing some quick thoughts about a word in which this blessed, affluent family could always use some more meditation.