The Guardians: Living up to a Name

Part One: Nimrod the Mighty Hunter

Be careful what you name your dog, or your children for that matter. Names have meanings and I personally believe they can have consequences of self-fulling prophecies.

Nimrod with my Mother and Son. Nimrod loved people.

Had your name been related to Tutsi, you would have suffered death in the Rwanda Genocide of 1994 as the Hutu sought to eradicate the Tutsi from Rwanda. And think of African Americans with surnames like Smith or Davis taken during the time of slavery and representing their slave masters–forever to live with an oppressive identity history.  

For over a decade of living in Africa, and studying her many cultures, names and stories were always at the top of my list.  Family names, just like most everywhere, were always important and used to define family and ethnic identity. African tribal names of Masai, Hutu, Kikuyu, or Shona gave a sense of origin and self-identity. Your own name gives you a sense of family, history, and culture–some positive and some tragic.  

Sometimes people change their names for economic survival.  My father-in-law loved Patelli’s Pizza. One day he learned that the owner was Mr. Patel, an immigrant from India who realized no one in the south would buy an Indian Italian pizza. My father-in-law loved the pizza regardless because it was good.  Mr. Patel proved his point and his pizza.

Years ago I learned that nicknames, a name given to someone in jest or fondness, has power, also.  Naming people and animals gives and reflects a personality to live up to, defend, or hope to dispell–a reputation. Nicknames are often given to people for specific physical or personality traits.  Sometimes people use them as identifiers to hide or to code the communication to the person you are talking to in public.

While studying Kiswahili in Kenya in the early 1980s, I would sit with the Kenyan teachers and staff of the local language school, drink chai, and listen to the stories of the day.  When Kenyans would tell the stories of the American expatriates, they were tagged with a name the Kenyans could use to discuss issues in their group, but in secret. For example, Redio Tumboni (RADIO IN THE STOMACH) was the name given to a rotund accountant who garbled his speech.  Then there was Paka (THE CAT), a name given to a teacher who was constantly stretching and loosening his stiff neck, in all directions. I was also tagged with more than one nickname. I’ll keep those to myself, thank you..

Sometimes, a nickname is just a monicker shorthand.  The Rev. Dr. Buster Cyde, III, Esq. becomes Bubba, because of his brotherly personality.  

In 1985, Vickie and I relocated to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, from the coastal city of Mombasa.  We were assigned an old stone house in a reasonably safe section of the city where expatriates and wealthier Kenyans resided.  The previous residents had two dogs they asked us to adopt. We agreed. Turkey was a large, clumsy and unruly German Shephard who was one old dog that refused to learn new tricks–if he HAD ever learned any in the first place.  He was a monster in any closet within the small rooms of the house, bumping constantly into people and furniture. Outside, his favorite trick was to dig through the chain link fence surrounding the yard, trying to catch and eat the free-range chickens my neighbor kept.

Our other adoptee was Nimrod, named for the biblical Nimrod, the mighty warrior in Hebrew history.  Nimrod was a short and very long Dachsund whose thin little legs windmilled following his buddy, Turkey, in and around the house, barking at key emotional moments of the day, especially when someone came too close or entered the perimeter.  Both would live up to their names to the point of tragedy.

In 1987, either from a gas explosion or rats chewing antiquated electrical wires in the ceiling crawl space, our house caught fire and burned.   

As we drove home from work, on General Mathenge Boulevard, I saw a billowing cloud of dark smoke, rising above the blooming Jacaranda trees.  “Vickie, our house is on fire.” I moaned in a prophetic tone. When we arrived the house was surrounded by at least twenty uniformed police, keeping a larger crowd of potential looters from the nearby informal settlement at bay.  In a real shocker, the city firetruck had already arrived and firemen were hosing down the flames–this just doesn’t happen. Turns out the well-meaning police also had some sticky fingers as they helped us move out our remaining belongings.  While most possessions were lost to fire, we were thankful and surprised that the Tupperware was still untouched.

Vickie holding the untouched Tupperware in our burned-out house in 1987.

The mission, which owned the house, would take a year to restore, so we secured ourselves in the apartment next door waiting for a new assignment.  Nimrod remained in the old yard, as a guard of sorts, barking continuously at the foot-traffic that passed the gate and chainlink fence, on the small dirt alleyway where the house was situated. As we moved to an apartment next door, we were forced to find new homes for our dogs.  In an ironic twist, Turkey was ‘farmed out’ on Thanksgiving day to a local farmer who would give him full range as the wild turkey on the farm. Nimrod, the mighty warrior would live up to his name as well, in an act of surprising bravery.

My daily regimen was to retire about 9 PM and arise for a run at 5 AM.  Traffic became congested on the street above us at 7 AM. It was about 4 AM when I heard Nimrod bark with a ferociousness I had not heard before. From his bark, I knew he was running the length of the yard.  Then, it was quiet–the kind of quiet that was too quiet–quiet-quiet.

I dressed for my run and walked out the door as the sun’s rays began to create the morning yellow shadows.  As I walked about the hill past my burned-out house I could see a small black lump in the dusty road. Nimrod.  He was still slightly breathing as I lowered myself to his body and placed my hand on his head and body. His eyes opened and looked at me as if to say, I did my job, I did my best.

As was, and is, common in many of African urban environments–and I should say urban environments where poverty and unemployment are high anywhere in the world–young men often travel in small groups at night looking for easy targets for theft.  A burned out house might have something left. So on this dark night, on a small back dirt alley, they discovered a burned out house behind a chainlink fence and were met by a ferocious Dachsund, Nimod. So as they entered, they would not be deterred. One took his long spear, stabbed Nimrod in the chest and slung him over the fence into the alley.

I stayed with Nimrod a short while, gently stroking his head and body.   He had waited in the road for me to pass wanting me to recognize his bravery and faithfulness.

“You done good boy, real good,” I gently praised and consoled him”  There was not a single whimper. Brave dogs don’t whimper JUST AS brave men and women don’t whine.  He simply closed his eyes and breathed a long last sigh of release. He was a good dog. Nimrod, the mighty warrior lived up to his name, in an act of surprising bravery.  I miss him.

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