In Cerro Iglesias, more than half the people call me by my Ngäbe name, Iyi (Eegee). When the captain of our soccer team writes out our lineup, it says Iyi Dobrobo – Mediocampo (mid-field). Nearly all of the volunteers living in indigenous communities have a similar doppelganger, and when I got mine I didn’t think of it as anything more than a nickname. Many of our American names are hard to pronounce and I figured a primary reason for giving me a Ngäbe name was to facilitate shouting at me when I walked by. It’s the same reason we pronounce it Laz Annjelez: to switch into another language’s tongue contortions for two syllables just doesn’t seem worth it. When I asked what my name signifies (hoping against hope that it meant ‘noble warrior,’ or ‘dragon’s breath,’ or ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’), everyone responded somewhat confusedly, “oh...it’s a name.” Just as well I thought, the man who gave me the name had never met me when he did.
But Iyi has become a real person over the last year and a half. He and the person writing this blog entry are very different people.
Iyi loves lukewarm chunky corn drink.
Iyi loves watery sugary coffee.
Iyi doesn’t mind if you laugh at his attempts to speak Ngäbe, he will only smile in response.
Iyi really doesn’t like being called ‘gringo.’
Iyi leaves his house for a meeting at the time the meeting is supposed to start.
Iyi thinks a pack of crackers should really cost ten cents, and the fact that they are now fifteen makes him shake his head at how expensive things have gotten.
Iyi thinks a dog is healthy if it has all its fur and he isn't able to count all its ribs.
Iyi is going to cry when he leaves because he will miss this place terribly.
Iyi loves the cool climate here, he says it reminds him of the States.
Iyi will come back to visit whenever he can.
Iyi gets one thing done in a day and feels productive.
Iyi is always happy to have visitors, even if he was really looking forward to sitting in his hammock and reading.
Iyi has an incredibly simple sense of humor, he’s not sure if irony or sarcasm translates into Spanish, but it doesn’t seem to translate in Cerro Iglesias.
Iyi tells the same jokes over and over because they always get laughs.
Sometimes, if I’m outside of Cerro Iglesias and I run into someone from there, Iyi and I meet, and it can be a little awkward. Iyi lives a very simple life, and rarely spends more than a dollar and a half in a day. Since Iyi and I look identical, it's hard to justify to the person from my site why I have a bottle of wine in one hand, a t-bone steak on the end of a fork on the other, and I'm skipping down the street in my gold-plated sneakers. Iyi and I are very different.
In no other chapter of my life have I had such a distinctly different persona, and so it seems fitting that I have a different name. In October, I'll leave that name behind and probably never use it again unless I go back to visit. For the first few months after I'm gone, I'll probably turn my head when someone shouts 'BeeGee!' or something like that, but eventually it will fade from my consciousness. I still hear stories about Joyo and Choli, the two previous volunteers, and so that's probably where Iyi will survive. 'Iyi, he sure loved corn drink...'Iyi can’t believe how fast his two years have gone by.
There are some things we have in common.