mama life

August 1, 2009 § 2 Comments

today aza and i were talking in bed.

she looks over at me and asks: what’s you name?

me: mama.  and what’s your  name?

aza: mama

me: no its not.  thats not your name.  what’s your name

aza: maia!  what’s your name?

me: mama.  what’s you name?

aza: aza!

aza could do this game for hours if i let her.  after 10 minutes i would rather be banging my head against the wall.  toddlers.


i love the word: mama.  when i was doing research in east africa, mama was my name.  mama maisha (which means life in swahili).  mama works as an honorific there.  it replaces ‘miss’ and ‘maam’ and whatever ways of respectfully addressing women.  it is not dependent on whether or not the woman has children.

sitting in a room with dozens of community women leaders all of us addressing each other as mama… mama fayida, mama esperanze.  as we talked about ways to address the violence in the communities.  was powerful.

especially since i had miscarried a couple of months before.


it was also powerful because mama is how the boys back home address me.  and once again it acts as an honorific a term of respect and kinship.

and being able to travel half way around the world and still be addressed by the same name that southern boys knocking on my grandmother’s door use…just another way that one can travel so far…rural south carolina to rural east congo…and still find home.


i had always said that i would be cool with my kids calling me by my first name.  and i still believe that.  just. not. yet.  i want to be mama for a little longer.  a couple of more years.


mama.  is just such an evocative word.  here, in cairo, the equivalent to mommy is umi.  and umi is a beautiful word.  but even here.  everyone knows what ‘mama’ means.  ma. ma. ma. there is something primoridial about it.  something that speaks to millions of years of walking on this earth.  i dont have any scientific data to back up my claims.


i just know that there is no where i have been in the world that does not hear the word mama and understand.  and being understood is a powerful moment when you are so far and yet so close to home.


§ 2 Responses to mama life

  • Adria Nicole says:

    What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

  • bfp says:

    oooh, girl, I *know*. it’s how I feel about “mami”–i remember i read somewhere some white woman who was grossed out by people (and men in particular) calling women of color “mama” or “mami”–that she didn’t like the sexualization of it–(like men saying, ai mami)–and i was totally confounded when i read that. mama/mami is THIS to me–this post. exactly. it’s almost an untranslatable word for me. one of those words that if you don’t get–you just can’t get it explained to you.


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