Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
Ma’am, Ma’am Elisa, Eliza, Ma’am Goya, Teacher Elissa, Elissa, Sesi Reya, Reya, Ma’am Reya,… The list of names I now respond to in the village is edging in on excessive. At this point I’m likely to look over and greet if someone just shouts “Hey wena!”
It’s weird though. The assignation of a South African name is something we eagerly look forward to as trainees, and after our first day with host families, we excitedly share our names and their meanings amongst each other. However the reality is that it is incredibly strange going by a name other than my own for two years. My PST host family named me Reabetswe, meaning we are given. I chose to keep the name coming to site as I couldn’t imagine adjusting to yet another Tswana name… so yeah sorry host fam, no naming privileges!
But that said, most people in my village don’t know my real name and if they do they have no clue how to pronounce it (see pronunciations at the top…). This distinction sets a strong boundary between locals and myself. There is me, Alyssa, who talks in normal American English, enjoys traveling and running water and there is me, Reya, who muddles through in Setswanish, greets every person ever, and who currently finds herself melting in the oven that is her home. Oh wait, that’s both of us. There tends to be a distinction that those who know me better feel more comfortable attempting to use my American name, while those who I have recently met or who prefer to keep me at arm’s length stick to my Tswana name, this of course excludes children who use whatever comes out of their mouth.
There is a certain sense of erasure when I slip into the skin of Reya. Sure, I retain the core identity that makes me me, but upon assuming this persona I am much more conscious of my actions and their potential consequences. As Reya, I am the volunteer who will constantly be integrating but never fully integrated into my community. There are facets of my personality that I hide away, better relegated for the privacy of my home or shared with fellow volunteers.
As much as I am immensely grateful for my Tswana name and for the fascinating questions that come with it… “Is that really your name?” “I don’t believe you”… etc., I miss being called Alyssa. I miss not having to dissect my personality apart to fit the circumstances.
But hey, after 16 months of heavy trekking, Reya’s not going anywhere especially with a long break coming up next month.