Ezama’s youngest child sat on his lap, sniffling. Several chickens and a grey cat wandered into the tukul and were shooed away. The baby, distracted, stopped crying. He had been frightened by my foreign, mzungu face. He had never seen a white person before. Relieved, I grinned at the baby who returned with a cautious coo.
“What’s his name?” I asked Ezama.
“Alijonee,” the proud father replied.
I repeated the name. “It’s nice,” I said. “What does it mean?”
“It means,” Ezama told me, “it is very bad to be poor.”
One of the village elders turned to me.
“Your name, Aimee. What does it mean?”
“Beloved,” I replied, suddenly acutely self aware.
“Ahhh, he answered, as all the men nodded. “You are very rich in name.”
Later that night, far from Okubani, as Sam and I talked about the day, I asked him about the relative wealth of the village. Surely, I thought, I may have misread some of the signals. Perhaps they were not as bad off as they had shared. “No,” he told me “The names. That is one way to know. Only the very poorest places have poverty names. It is very unfortuate,yes.”