When I first moved to my little town in Panama, the community came together to pick a Ngöbe name for me. After some debate, a name was finally chosen and I became "Geli Quigavo" for the two years I lived in the village. Although it took a little getting used to, before long I was easily introducing myself by my new name and even began to identify as "Geli" just as much as I had ever identified by my given name, "Abby."
When I left my site for the very last time, I almost cried when one of my best friends, Virginia, said to me, "Now you won't be Geli anymore, will you?" At the time, all I could think about was how much I was losing by leaving this way of life and these people who I had come to view as family.
I was so excited to finally be going home and starting the next chapter of my life, but I was brokenhearted at the thought of everything-and everyone- that I was leaving behind... including Geli.
However, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that while she's partially right in that I will no longer hear that name called out to me, I will always be Geli Quigavo.
Geli is strong, both mentally and physically. She's not afraid of hard work, and is not above any type of manual labor (though if we're honest, she's probably always going to be happier in the kitchen).
She knows the value of community, and devotes time to building hers up.
Geli knows that strangers are just friends you haven't met yet, and that relationships are built on asking people about their lives and genuinely caring what they have to say. She understands the value in putting herself out there in order to start those relationships, and that a few minutes of awkwardness is well worth the friendships that can come from introducing yourself and starting a conversation.
Geli loves to travel, but she knows that every town is someone's home, and has learned that just getting to know people and spending time with them (especially when cooking/food is involved) is just as good, if not better, than visiting any tourist attraction.
Geli thinks about the future and makes plans, but she knows that life happens. When last minute changes pop up, whether it be a roadblock stopping your bus or being asked to lead a workshop starting right now, she'll make it work. She knows that little things are just that- little things, and if you can't change them, they're no use stressing about.
I became Geli when I lived in my rural Panamanian village, but I'm not leaving her there. As Geli, I became a stronger, kinder, and better person. I learned important lessons that will stay with me for the rest of my life, and now whenever a new friend asks my name and my story, I will tell them about Geli and the people that have built her into me.