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What's in a Malawian name?

I still cherish the memory of the looks on their faces. It was, I believe, a Friday night in Nkhata Bay, and 5 young English girls wandered into the bar. They were all dolled up as one might be for a big night out in Romford, or, perhaps, the University of Luton, and to me they all looked about 14years old. The came in with a kind of semi-swagger that implied they were used to being the centre of attention, pampered by all, knew everything about everything and generally looked down on us mere mortals that weren't being funded by Daddy's gold card.

Everybody has to start traveling at some point, and you generally start by knowing pretty much b*gger all. Most learn soon enough. Most of us gave them a quick glance, half shrugged and got on with ignoring them and continuing whatever it was we were doing beforehand. But one of the locals in our group had seen something he liked: He walked over to the girls, who were still standing in the centre of the room taking the atmosphere and setting in, with what now looked like faint unease on their faces. Our friend walked up to them, and says 'Hello and welcome. My name is Chicken Pizza. What are your names?'

The look on at least 4 of the 5 faces was priceless. These alpha-girls, who knew everything suddenly betrayed the fact that they had only been in Africa for 2days and really had no idea what the heck was going on. They also didn't seem to be the brightest, as you could see the single shared braincell desperately trying to compute what Chicken had just said, and if they had heard correctly. A combination of semi laughter, confusion, indignation and incredulity washed over them before almost as one, they said 'you what?!'

But they had heard correctly.

Though they certainly don't all have crazy names, in Malawi it is pretty common for the beach boys and those locals who hang around at backpacker haunts and the like to have taken on assumed names which are often a bit daft, but probably easier to remember and pronounce than their real names. Thus, as well as several Kelvin's, Benji's, Koumbe and good solid African names like Innocent and Special, I have also met the likes of Chicken Pizza, Cheese on Toast, Lemon Squeezy, Bacon Sandwich, Eggy Bread, Happy Ending and Bottle of Gin as well as at least a couple that sound more like old fashioned American Indian chief names: Staggers when Drunk and Shits in Bushes both come to mind. One lovely small Mzungu girl had wanted to take on the local name Battery Acid, though it hadn't managed to stick.

As for me? One or two people tried to come up with a suitable name one night, and then came to a happy drunken agreement. You can be sure, however, that I will not be introducing myself to all that many people by saying “Hi. I'm sleeping with sheep”...

Posted by Gelli 04:21 Archived in Malawi Tagged round_the_world

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