South Sudan: Sad Names

19 April 2017

Tessa blogs about a pair of newborn twins, and the stories their names can tell...

The newborn twins asleep
Photo: Tessa Thiadens / MSF
 
These twins were born in our clinic in South Sudan. First the boy, then eight minutes later his little sister.
 
In Nuer culture, children are named in reference to the circumstances surrounding their birth or important events in that period. For instance, the names Unzimai, Riek and Duop literally mean: 'war', 'conflict' and 'born alongside the road'. If the child that was born before your birth has passed away, you will be given the name Chuol. It’s hard to believe how many Chuols, Rieks and Duops I have met in the short time I spent in South Sudan.
 
From a distance, I’m watching a young mother who is trying to breastfeed her twins for the first time. She hasn’t found her rhythm yet, but she does manage to get the first baby to suckle. She looks at me with a proud expression on her face, and I smile back to her.
 

Dr Tessa Thiadens with the new mother and her baby twins
Tessa with the new mother and her twins. Photo: Tessa Thiadens / MSF
 
My mind wanders to the insecure future for these young twins; will their family be able to take good care of them? Will they be safe? Will there ever be peace in South Sudan? How often will they have to flee from violence? Will there be enough food for them to eat? Will they survive diseases such as measles, diarrhea and malaria? Will they ever get an opportunity to go to school? Will the girl be at risk of sexual violence every time she goes looking for firewood? Will the boy be recruited by a rebel army one day?
 
I can’t stop to ruminate for long; the young mother looks at me in a request to help her with feeding the second child. We don’t speak each other’s language, but breastfeeding is something so natural… No official language is needed.
 
You can read Tessa's post in the original Dutch here.
 
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