Posted by: mhirdyounger | May 16, 2013

The names I answer to

There is the obvious one, my name, Miriam.

And then there’s the nicknames, Mir, Mimi…

There are different ways of saying Miriam in other cultures. Miriam seems to be a popular name everywhere but Canada. I met all the Miriams that I know in Spanish, French and Muslim communities. In French it’s usually with a y and a rolled r or in Muslim communities with an a for Mariam. That’s why in Ghana people get my name pretty quickly, I just say it’s Mariam. Not like Heather…where people say Hagar?. And it’s great that I’m finally living in a city where people get it when I say ‘Miriam…you know, like Moses’ big sister’.

And then there’s my local Ashanti name, Adwoa, for Monday born. A lot of kids that know me, people in the community near my home and my partners at the colleges call me Adwoa.

And then there’s the other names that I’ll answer to:

  • Obruni
  • Salaminga
  • Nasarah
  • White

…basically white person, or foreigner.

In Kumasi, it’s mostly Obruni. Children literally yelling after you as you walk by “Obruni, Obruni, Obruni…”.

Barbies in Ghana are actually called Obruniba, baby foreigner.

Or there’s the song that kids learn in school to learn how to greet in English:

Obruni, koko, maachin. How are you? I am fine. Thank you.

Most days I don’t mind and I wave at the kids or just keep walking. And most of kids that know me call me Adwoa or Sister Miriam. But then there’s those days when you wake up on the wrong side of the bed or something else has already happened to tick you off when I just grind my teeth when the kids yell Obruni.

Or I call them Obibini back, which means black person. The only times I have ever had real empathy for being called Obruni by a Ghanaian was when someone was shocked or offended that I would say back Obibini after they’ve called me Obruni. And then the shadow of hesitation dawns as they realize, ‘Huh, calling you Obruni is like you calling me Obibini. And I don’t like it, so you must not like it either. Huh’.

Or the funny story of this week, as I sat in a clinic waiting for results and I heard ‘Bruni’. They must be ready for me, so I looked up, and around, but no one was looking at me or calling me. I started to get up but sat back down confused when no one approached. I went back to my book when a minute later I heard it again ‘bruni’. I started to get up again confused and asked the woman next to me, who is calling me? She smiles and says that the lab technician is called ‘bruni’. Maybe he had a foreigner as a great grandfather or maybe it is a nickname because he’s fair-skinned, either way, for the rest of my wait, every few minutes, my head would pop up and look around as the lab technician was called ‘bruni’.

On the tro ride home that morning, I heard “Obruni” from behind me, this time for me, the mate asking for my fare.



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