Christmas I received a new name. I couldn’t ask for a better gift. I have been nagging Abukari for a Dagbani name since early November. “The chief will give you one,” he keeps telling me. Ugh. I’ll never get a name. I am the least of the chief's concerns. And he’ll probably give me a name that every volunteer has ever had, One Heart, God’s Gift, Loved By All, Lover of All, gag me.

Azara calls me, a young woman I’ve met who has been wonderful to me. “Merry Christmas Maria!” I can’t believe she remembered my holiday. I’m coming over in 10, I tell her.

As I sat next to Azara and chat about my Christmas dinner, a parade of people walk by. Each stop to greet the curious new white lady. “A yuli?” they ask. What is my name? N yuli Maria. Yea you can’t pronounce that. N yuli Mariah. Mah –rie –aghhhh, Mariam? Ok, yea, that’s close enough. An older man yells after me in Dagbani, and Azara gasps in delight. 

“Wuntera! That is a beautiful name. He just gave you a Dagbani name.” My eyes start to get wide. Wuntera. Wuntera. What does it mean? “It means God Gives. It’s a fine name.” Wuntera. Wuntera. I have a name. And I love it. It’s perfect.

When I was in Rwanda, I stopped believing in God. Rwanda took my faith, the only thing that was truly real to me and ground it into the dirt. It took a few years to start claiming my faith back and I’m definitely not there yet. But during those ‘dark’ times in my life, a childhood bible verse would at times dance through my head. He gives and takes away. Now, I’m not one to over-spiritualize my time here in Ghana. Life here has been irony, luck, fate and a million miracles. But God does give and he sure as hell takes away. Simply put, good things happen and bad things happen. And I can’t seem to keep up with any of it. Life is anything but mundane here in Ghana.

This may have been the least eventful Christmas I have ever have had. And I’m grateful for it. When all that holds you together and makes sense, emotionally and physically is taken away, you start to appreciate things like pesto sauce mix and a phone call from loved ones. Or receiving a new name. When I realized that I would be spending Christmas alone, I grappled with what Christmas meant to me. To me, it’s family. And my family has become far more real to me here than when they are in my presence (extended family included, which is every last one of you). Family is precious. Anyway, I hope your holiday was filled with love. Mine was filled with lots and lots of love.

To those of you that were able to call me: you have no idea how much it meant to me. To those of you who have sent me letters and packages, they bring tears to my eyes. Oreo's have that affect on me in the states too, but more so, it means so much that I have been in your thoughts. You are the tugboat that keeps me a’rockn and a’rollin. From the depths of me, thanks.


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