The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Letter from Adama

Author - Chris Grant


... deresku ... deresk ... deres'sh ...

Here I am sitting in the Ras Hotel in Adama (previously called Nazret and still identified as such on most maps of Ethiopia). I am just starting, yet again, on my first morning hour of Amharic study. Nothing like being in situ to get the brain focused and concentrated.

... derese ... deresech ... deresen ...

Certainly any Amharic skills I had already gained in the UK had been very slow to sink in, despite the expert (and probably frustrated) help I have had from time to time. So this is my committed attempt to become a fluent speaker in just four weeks of daily application.

... deresachu ... deresachow ...

It's good to be here doing my work amid the happy and welcoming people of Adama - their smiles and their patient disposition can only help my own efforts, I'm sure. My hotel's a good base too, although it would help if the electricity were rather more reliable for my computer and if the hot water tap didn't continually fall off onto the shower floor each time I try and get clean. Just what is there about Ethiopian plumbing?!

... ihedallohw ... tihedalluh ... tihedallush ... NO! ... tihejallush

Street scene in Adama (Nazret)
Street scene in Adama (Nazret)
Photo © Chris Grant

I've wandered out to a local café to do my learning work and I'm sitting on the balcony overlooking the main road - aha! I know that one ... wana menged! - that slices straight through the centre of Adama on its way from Addis Ababa to Harar in the far east of the country. Up here with me on the balcony are groups of peaceful men, chatting and ch'atting at the same time (ch'at is the ubiquitous green leaf that is being chewed ad nauseam everywhere you turn here). Down there below me the chewing gum sellers and the tissue touts are still as multifarious and active as ever, while they have been joined by at least half a dozen young men peddling a showy range of stylish and 'cool' sunglasses, skilfully displaying them in a great fan of gleaming merchandise in one hand. I wonder why I haven't seen anyone wearing sunglasses in Adama - that's strange!

... yihedal ... tihedallech ... innehedallen ...

Of course, getting your shoes regularly cleaned by the street lads is not only simple and cheap, but effective and highly necessary in this muddy rainy season that I have chosen for my studying. Quite why I decided to bring those new white trousers in my backpack, I am not at all sure!

Just HOW did the verbs come to be SO difficult in the Amharic language?! What do we do in English for the verb 'to go'? 'I go, you go, he goes, she goes, we go, you go, they go'. Now, that's the way to do it, isn't it? Add an 's' when you fancy doing so! But the Amharic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

... tihedallachu ... yihedallu ...

There is no doubting the importance of this main road for Ethiopia's economy. Huge, heavily-laden lorries rumble incessantly below me, on their way to the modern and superbly productive farming complexes that are now supplying the world with the highest quality cut flowers and fresh fruit. Some of the finest strawberries I have ever tasted were bought (and immediately consumed!) by me last week at a roadside stall outside one such farm. But these vast double lorries still have to share their space with the more intimate local traffic - boys pushing hand carts, country people driving their fleets of donkeys to market, and the occasional skinny lone horse ambling in search of anything edible.

Keeping one's mind on the job is never easy at the best of times, but when there's so much here to look at that's fascinating and wonderful...

... hejallohw ... hedehal ... hedeshal ......?

Oh it's no good! There's the most wonderful little café down there in a park just on a sidestreet. They make such good makiato that I can almost smell it already. I think I'll sit peacefully under a shady tree there for an hour or so and read another chapter of The Pale Abyssinian. I've got one more week of study before I go back to the UK and pitch myself into bustling life again. I must start answering some of those myriad Link Ethiopia emails - they'll think I've left the planet!

Do I think I'll be fluent by that time? Shall I pick up the phone when I get home and astound my friend Melaku Getachew with my superb pronunciation and my command of colloquialisms? Has this trip been quite as successful as I had hoped it might be for my verbal skills?

aydellem indey!!!!!!!!

Chris Grant is Director of Link Ethiopia, the charity dedicated to supporting education in Ethiopia. He emailed this article and photo whilst he spent an extended period travelling in the country.

First Published in News File Winter 2009

Opinions expressed in the articles are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of the Society.
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