My name is Rosemary. A lot of people call me Rose.
When I arrived in Vanuatu over two years ago, I became Leipanga. That’s the name my host family in our training village gave me.
I also became whiteman, or missus, which is what white/foreign women are called here. I’ve always been white, of course, but coming to Vanuatu, it became one of my names. As in, “Who’s the whiteman?” or “Missus, where are you going?”
Then I left the training village on Efate and travelled to Tanna, the island that’s been my home for the past two years. When I arrived, my new host family gave me the name Nabubo, which means “Nabubo.” And of course, still whiteman and missus. Sometimes even yaramitunga, which means whiteman in local language.
When school started, I earned some new names. Miss Rosemary, or Miss Rose. Teacher Rosemary. And often simply Teacher.
Rosemary, Rose, Leipanga, whiteman, missus, Nabubo, Miss Rosemary, Teacher. For the past two years those have been my names.
When I leave Tanna, no one will call me Nabubo, Miss Rosemary, or Teacher any more. And two weeks later, when I leave Vanuatu, no one will call me Leipanga, whiteman, or missus. My name will just be Rosemary or Rose.
That’s a little scary. Those names have become parts of my identity, reflecting who I’ve been for the past two years as Peace Corps volunteer in Vanuatu. Here, I’m different, and special. I’m an obvious outsider, but with insider status. For better or for worse, I always get noticed. I’m never anonymous. Sometimes it makes me feel famous and sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable, but I’m used to it now, either way. I’m respected as a teacher and an authority figure. I’m an expert in everything that isn’t gardening. I’m highly educated and experienced. I’m the representative of my whole country.
When I go back to America, I’m just going to be another 20-something college graduate with little work experience. I won’t be noticed. I won’t be a highly educated expert. I’m not going to be special. Saying a few words in local language won’t make everyone hoot with delight. Little kids won’t smile just to see me. That’s all going to be very hard to adjust to.
I’m really hoping that I won’t lose this sense of who I’ve become, here. Yes, I’ll just be Rosemary in America, and I won’t stand out in a crowd. I won’t know more about computers than everyone else, and no one will congratulate me for integrating. Little kids won’t look at me twice. But I’ll still be Nabubo, and Teacher, at least on the inside.