Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Letter from Ethiopia: Amharigna is coming along

By Kimberly MacKinnon

PURFLEET-based Kimberly MacKinnon is spending three months in Ethiopia as part of a VSO venture.

Here is another segment from her blog.

“My Amharigna (Amharic) is proving to be slow to develop. It is mainly that pronunciation varies greatly, and I find myself trying to write notes phonetically, and then lose all ability to recall what it is supposed to say.

Needless to say I have a few words stashed that I am finding rather useful, the translations being ‘enough’ (enough food, I am full), ‘good’ (I am good, this food is good, you are good) and ‘thank you’ (no explanation required).

Many people here have a basic understanding of English, and I find I am careful in what I say and how I say it. Mainly for fear that my off the hand comments or mutterings could cause offense or be misconstrued. This is so much so that I find myself muttering in Spanish to myself, because I know what it means and no one else does. It is mine, my own secret ‘¡dios mio!’ exclamations when I am exasperated, which mean nothing to the locals – much like their rapid speak means nothing to me.

Walking down the street proves to be a challenge of anger management and realisation that the language used is not mean to be rude, though in the UK it would be seen this way. I often hear “YOU!” being shouted to get my attention; something in the UK we just would not do in a friendly manner. I’ve also acquired several sisters and brothers from another mother as it seems I am also “Sister!” to everyone. Then of course there is “Ferenge!” which I have probably mentioned, and my retort is now to call them “Ethiopian!” in Amharic, which often receives a giggle or two.

I have also found that some Amharic to English phrases are interesting, for example, Zelalem my placement supervisor uses “possible” over “yes”. Try it, next time you go to say ‘yes’ say ‘possible’ instead. Its rather a positive outlook I think!

No doubt there will be plenty more language quirks over the next few weeks. I just hope I do not end up in the situation where I cannot speak Amharic and my English has debilitated so much that I can barely speak it correctly either!


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