“Nature’s gift”


We Irish are a fairly homogenous gloop.  Readily identifiable to each other while on foreign holiday, we can spot the “big Irish head” on someone from quite a way off.  Most of us speak the same language (except, you may venture, those from Cavan).  We behave similarly; have similar traditions and customs.  We see it as a badge of honour that the few foreigners who do successfully penetrate our borders will become over time “more Irish than the Irish themselves”.  Assimilated 🙂

Well the diversity of this country and its people is something I have been really impressed by since I arrived here.  If Ethiopia is a nation of people who are bound together by “sameness” or a commonly shared identity it is difficult at first glance to see. Because here, as I see it, no two people are similar.  If there is an Ethiopian “look”, I don’t know what it is.  There are multiple religions, all living side by side in considerable harmony; Ethiopian Orthodox, Muslim, Protestant.  And the mother tongues spoken by these people are as different to each other as French is to German.

In Ethiopia, there are over eighty languages.

Think about it. Eighty!

I doubt if I can even list eighty languages.

So that Ethiopians can communicate with each other, one of these eighty languages is chosen as the national language; Amharic (although it is not the language most widely spoken).  So Ethiopians learn their mother tongue, Amharic and English.  I am lucky that I am stationed in the Amhara region and so I only need to learn Amharic and not another local language as well.  That might have triggered a fire in my brain.

Somewhere along the way Amharic was described to me as “Nature’s gift”.  I can think of some other choice words for it.  Any language where the response for, “How are you?” is “Igzyihiber yimesken” is surely the wrath of some malevolent God.

But I really do love languages and I am enjoying learning Amharic immensely though it initially seems diabolical.  My neighbours and colleagues are genuinely impressed with my progress and assume I will be fluent within the next month or so 🙂

(To ratchet up the difficulty level, my landlady’s family are Muslim and they actually speak more Arabic than Amharic!  So I am picking up some very few words of that as well.)

As an absolute beginner, my focus is not on mastery of the written or spoken word, just verbal communication.  That is just as well, because as it happens there are no less than 264 “letter” in the Amharic alphabet and the script is surely the handwriting of a drunk Alien.

I am realising once again that most communication is non-verbal and that you can get by with relatively little of the language for routine ideas.  A grunt here, a smile there or a shrug can move the conversation on in leaps and bounds.

But, there are some rather hilarious boo boos.  Thankfully I remain blissfully unaware of my own mistakes in Amharic (although I did recently have the misfortune of finding out that the word for lunch in Amharic is vexingly similar to the word for a particular part of the female anatomy :/).  When my Amharic fails the situation completely we must resort to the pidgin English of the Ethiopian in question.  And depending on the individual, the consequences can be side-splitting.  I sincerely hope my bad Amharic gives them as much cause for laughter!

One day, I was sitting out in the courtyard drinking coffee with the women (it’s a hard life).  The time was passing by pleasantly enough and then I noticed they were murmuring something about me.  The landlady was nominated to articulate it in English.  She said,

“Ais, my fish is green.”

I looked at her. She was desperately earnest and she is a lovely kind lady so I tried my best to suppress a huge grin.  She persisted with this for another few attempts

“Ais. My fish is green.”

I was drawing a blank.

She moved her hands about a bit, before repeating,


I was finding it more difficult not to laugh.  And again,

“AIS! My fish is green!”

I still had no clear idea of what she was trying to say so I could offer no help and it was getting quite uncomfortable.  Perhaps her fish was green, but for heaven’s sake what was I to do about it?!

By degrees, she realised it wasn’t quite right and corrected her own mistake, fixing on,

“Ais, your face is red!”

Indeed! Hahahaha! Sunburnt and doubled over with laughter!

Another evening I was in next door drinking tea (it’s a hard life #2).  It was late-ish and Mohammed bounded in the door from work.  He sat down enthusiastically opposite me to a plate of injera and tucked in.  He was ravenous.  In explanation, he exclaimed, “I am hungry!”, in between mouthfuls as he devoured the plate of injera before him.  I nodded understandingly and smiled encouragingly as he ate before he felt the need to clarify by saying,

“My abdomen is awake!”

😀 😀 😀


10 responses »

    • Hey Nora! Glad to be of service 😀 Thanks for reading, I usually up date once a week or so so check back if you are in need of a pick me up 😉 PS nice gravatar image xx

  1. Hi Aisling, Noelle L here! You are having wonderful adventures. What an experience! Sr. Anne said I would enjoy the blog and she is right. I kept meaning to ask one of the girls to show me how to get it etc but in the absence of anyone here to ask tonight, I worked it out myself and it was easy. That said, maybe I’m writing into an empty void now and you will never read this!! Time will tell.

    Guess what?Besides wanting to read about your adventures, I have also been telling my class about your trip as we are doing a project on water and discussing our easy access to water and how children (and others) in developing countries do not have it so easy. I was wondering if you would have time to answer a few questions (not too many, I promise) if they were to write them. The down side to this great plan is that we cannot get your blog in school as it (and many more sites) are blocked. Anyway, I want it to be their work and their questions so I will suggest they write questions and if you have time, I’ll send them on. They are very eager about the project and are checking their water usage in shower, flushing toilet, brushing teeth etc. I have a picture of parents etc being driven cracked with water being measured in bathrooms and kitchens all over Clonmel. I found lots of info on net re. women and children carrying water, the distances involved etc so I won’t be stuck but a link with you would add another dimension etc.

    Best wishes, Aisling. Keep up the great stories. I won’t be stuck for a read or a laugh from now on! Glad that key in not on the door. My heart isn’t great either! Ask M-A!!Love Noelle

    • Hi Noelle!!
      I was only thinking of you today. Niamhy mentioned about the water project a few weeks ago and at the weekend I sat down to write a little something for ye, just a little explanation of the situation but the questions which come from the pupils might be a better idea? That way it is very student-centred. I have been keeping a little water diary for them too but I only started this yesterday so I will have to keep it up for a week or so for them to get a good picture of how things are. I think it’s a great idea for a project and I’d only be too delighted to be included 🙂 Thanks for thinking of me. I can imagine how excited they are checking hteir own water usage, things like this really get them learning. That is unfortunate about the blog in school :/ I wonder is there any way around it? I am not great with technology so I don’t know myself. Those with internet access and parental consent could have a look at it at home I guess in the evenings. The possibilities are endless really- we could try skyping each other at some stage in the future too but at the moment it is not working here- that would cause great excitement in the class I’m sure! I think Niamh said they are 4th class or am I wrong?

      Anyhoo, I have received your message loud and clear so you are not typing into the a cyber space black hole! And I promise I will keep the door locked at all times 😉 Great to hear from you, love to all the Lambert family xxx

      • Hi Aisling,

        It’s wonderful to hear from you and great that you are going to help out with the project. Yes, there was plenty of interest today with girls telling me how much water they use on their pets on a daily basis, how much their parents use in tea/coffee etc. One girl made the gravy last night and used 500mls water. Naturally some are more interested than others but I think they all will like the idea of communicating with you. Thanks for keeping the water diary – we will be delighted to see what you use in Ethopia in a week. Niamh was great to pass on the message as what I intend to do mostly gets done but sometimes later than I intended!!

        I will ask the girls to write a few questions as well, as they might come up with things we will not think of. They are in 6th Class and we are tackling the project with gusto now as we were busy with Confirmation before Easter. What you are proposing will be heaps for us – a great addition to the project. Thanks again.

        I think it might be a good idea to give the girls details of the blog once I get parental permission as it makes great reading. They would learn lots while enjoying the stories. I’ll chat with Mairead Conway about it. I might get the whole staff reading!

        Take care, Aisling. I’ll be in touch soon, Love Noelle

        PS Isn’t technology great!

      • Good morning Aisling!

        I hope all is well with you since. All fine here, tGod. The girls are home for the weekend so it’ll be a busy house again (once they get up!!)

        My pupils wrote out questions. I’ll send them all to you but as many are similar, you might like to choose a few and answer. I’m sending them on immediately just so that you’ll have them to hand when you get free time but obviously I don’t want you under pressure to reply until it suits you.

        For your information, it’s a grey sky day here, with drizzle on and off. We were hoping to take a walk in the woods and have the old clothes on etc but it’s not exactly enticing! It’s mind over matter!

        Have a good week,
        Love Noelle

        What colour is the water?
        How clean is the water?
        Is there any difference between the water in Ireland and the water in Ethopia?
        Do you use your water to drink, cook and wash, or is there a different supply for washing?
        What is it like leaving Ireland where you have free water in your house and moving to Ethopia? Do you have taps in your house in Ethopia?
        Does every house and building have running water and indoor toilets?
        Is the water limited per person?
        Do you or other people you met have to travel for water?
        Have you become more appreciative of water?
        Did you ever get sick from water?
        Do children or other people ever get sick because of water in Ethopia?
        Do any parts of Ethopia suffer from drought?
        Can you tell us the names of any Irish charities working in Ethopia? What kind of work do these charities mainly do?

        (P.S. Aisling, please don’t take long over questions esp. the last about charities. If you even mention the type of work, I will do the explanation/teaching part. The girls are also good to research themselves so we would be delighted with the key words from you!)

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