Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I do not speak amharic

Amharic Sign, Fenton at Bonifant

I was at the Fenton Street Market last week talking to Megan from IMPACT Silver Spring and a little kid, about eight or so, comes up to me and shakes my hand. "Selam," he says. "What's up?" I reply. He frowns. "He just learned Amharic," says Megan. "Are you Ethiopian?" he asks. When I say no, he's really disappointed.

I am half-Black (where, specifically, I don't know) and half-Indian, a combination that my [Indian] aunt says looks Ethiopian. So I get this a lot, especially in East County, where our many Ethiopian restaurants and coffee shops are giving Shaw's "Little Ethiopia" a run for its money. "Are you Ethiopian?" asks the cashier at the convenience store when I hand him my picture ID. "Because Daniel is a very Ethiopian name." (One of the few Ethiopian people I know also is named Daniel, so it works.)

"Are you Ethiopian?" asks a girl at Wheaton High School I met on a job interview there last spring. She's been in the country for less than a year and is more than a little uncomfortable at a school where most of her classmates are Latino. And I can't get her to talk to me until she looks me in my big, not-Ethiopian eyes, and her face lights up. Then I put the flame out by saying "No, sorry."

My Indian side I understand: family emigrated from India to South Africa to Guyana to Rockville (yeah, I know) to D.C. The other half? No clue. I imagine it may look a little like Roots. Kinda wish I was Ethiopian so I'd at least know what that part of me was. And hey, I might even know Amharic, too.

Though now I've learned that selam is basically Amharic for what's up. Looks like I'll be able to fake it, at least for a few seconds.


Sligo said...

Selam is "peace" (like salaam in Arabic.) I would guess that the two words have the same origin.

Sligo said...

Duh, never mind. I didn't catch that last link.

Thomas Hardman said...

Ethopia -- and of course the various Ethopian people -- has a very interesting and extremely long history. Especially important is the history as regards early Christianity and even fairly early Judaic history.

That history is of such far reach that the written language used in the religious texts (related to Christianity) has been mostly unspoken in about the same way that Latin is mostly unspoken, for about the same reasons, and for about the same length of time.

Contrast and compare with the hidden cities and the churches hidden inside giant boulders in Anatolia (Turkey), and you start to get a better picture of the early Christians, who they were, and how they lived.